Shakespeare Invented Dotard

This post, obviously, can be taken to have a political slant.  Some people hate that, so I’m telling you now.  It’s also relevant to Shakespeare, so I feel it’s fair game.  And I’m not a newspaper journalist so I’m allowed to write what amuses me.

Last night, the leader of North Korea called the President of the United States a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” which is certainly something he hasn’t been called yet, and had half the country running for their dictionaries.

I went for my Open Source Shakespeare.  Jackpot.

It means “a person in their dotage,” in case you hadn’t looked it up yet.  “Dotage” being when you get old and “feeble-minded”.  Kind of like “doting,” but that one has come to mean something more cutesy romantic (as in, “he couldn’t stop doting over her”) though they come from the same root, which means to act or speak foolishly. So it works in either case, either you’re acting the fool because you’re old and can’t help yourself, or because you’re head over heels in love….or the president, apparently.

Anyway, “dotard” is not a version you hear often, but it turns out Shakespeare quite liked it.  Check it out:

Leontes in The Winter’s Tale

Will you not push her out? Give her the bastard.
Thou dotard! thou art woman-tired, unroosted
By thy dame Partlet here. Take up the bastard;
Take’t up, I say; give’t to thy crone.

Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing

Tush, tush, man; never fleer and jest at me:
I speak not like a dotard nor a fool,
As under privilege of age to brag
What I have done being young, or what would do
Were I not old.

Baptista Minola in The Taming of the Shrew

Away with the dotard; to the gaol with him!

And look, it’s right there in the opening of Cymbeline

The king he takes the babe
To his protection, calls him Posthumus Leonatus,
Breeds him and makes him of his bed-chamber,
Puts to him all the learnings that his time
Could make him the receiver of; which he took,
As we do air, fast as ’twas minister’d,
And in’s spring became a harvest, lived in court—
Which rare it is to do—most praised, most loved,
A sample to the youngest, to the more mature
A glass that feated them, and to the graver
A child that guided dotards; to his mistress,
For whom he now is banish’d, her own price
Proclaims how she esteem’d him and his virtue;
By her election may be truly read
What kind of man he is.

From context it definitely means what he thinks it means, and I’m pretty sure it’s never complimentary.  In case anybody’s still out there thinking, “That can’t be a real word.”

So did Shakespeare really “invent” the word?  No, of course not, just like he didn’t “invent” most of the other words that are typically ascribed to him (man we’re just having a real vocabulary lesson today!)

In all our time reposting and retweeting those “Shakespearean Insult” lists, it took Kim Jong Un to go full dotard on somebody.


One thought on “Shakespeare Invented Dotard

  1. Good man! Well written and don’t feel that you’re patronising, you’re not!

    I may be and according to my wife I practice it as an art, so I am really surprised that no one understands the word “dotard”. I went to grammar school in the UK so I expect everybody to have come across this!

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