‘Rocket Man’ called Donald Trump a what? What ‘dotard’ means and how it was translated

Trump fires back at Kim Jong-un after North Korea's leader hints at weapons test.

The North Korean retaliation was all but inevitable after U.S. President Donald Trump name-called its leader, Kim Jong Un. And so, after Trump launched his insult, calling Kim “Rocket Man” during a speech to the UN this week, the president’s target fired back with — dotard.


Kim’s missive was a first-person statement delivered in Korean and later translated into English as “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” the last word of which had many running to the dictionary.

READ MORE: A timeline of war of words between Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un

The translation – and, therefore, the use of the medieval term – came from the official translation of the state-run media.

There was a massive uptick in online lookups for the word, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary; on Friday, one day after Kim broadcast his statement on North Korean state media, the term was still at the top of the dictionary’s online list of trending words.

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So – what does dotard mean? For starters, it’s definitely not a compliment and it’s definitely not a part of the North American vernacular.

According to a blog on Merriam-Webster’s site, “Dotard, which comes from the Middle English word ‘doten’ (meaning ‘to dote’), initially had the meaning of ‘imbecile’ when it began being used in the 14th century.”

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Today, according to the blog’s author, “dotard” refers to “a person in his or her dotage,” which is to say a person who is in a state of deteriorating intellect.

With the definition of the old-fashioned word settled, another question worth looking at is how the word “dotard” was arrived at in translation.

According to South Korean journalist Jihye Lee, the literal translation of the original Korean phrase is “old beast lunatic.”

The Associated Press reported Friday the Korean word Kim used was “neukdari,” a derogatory reference to a senior citizen.

That word has been used previously by the state-run Korean Central News Agency — for example, against South Korean conservatives — but rarely ever translated to “dotard” in English, according to the AP report.

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The Korean version of Friday’s dispatch placed the word “michigwangi,” which means a mad or crazy person, before “neukdari,” so a more  accurate translation might have been a “crazy old man” or an “old lunatic.”

WATCH: Donald Trump calls Kim Jong Un ‘Rocket Man’ during UN speech

Donald Trump calls Kim Jong Un ‘rocketman’ during UN speech
Donald Trump calls Kim Jong Un ‘rocketman’ during UN speech

So why did the North Korean state media go with “dotard” in its official translation? It’s possible, one report mentioned, the translators may have simply resorted to a Korean-English dictionary.

Inputting the phrase provided on journalist Jihye Lee’s Twitter to Google Translate yields the English translation, “old man lunatic.” But using the phrase in an online Korean-English dictionary from South Korea returns two English options: an “aged (old) person” and “a dotard.”

WATCH: Touchdown and Fumbles – Trump targets ‘Rocket Man’ in UN speech

Touchdown and Fumbles – Trump targets “Rocket Man” in UN speech
Touchdown and Fumbles – Trump targets “Rocket Man” in UN speech

Aside from the North Korean state’s use of a word foreign to many North Americans, Kim’s statement was unique in the fact it was delivered in the first person and it is the first time a North Korean leader has issued such a direct statement against a U.S. president.

The South Korean government said it was the first-ever direct address to the world by a North Korean leader.

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Trump responded to the slur on Twitter, saying Kim is “obviously a madman” and criticising the totalitarian regime for “starving [and] killing its people.”

— With files from The Associated Press