Saturday, September 23, 2017

Yeah, you keep cracking wise...

The New York Times followed the U.S. media's long tradition the other day of treating North Korea dismissively. In this case, it was yucking it up over the use of the word "dotard," claiming people everywhere were scrambling to find out what the word meant. The implications of this laughter are that North Korea uses antiquated words, and is therefore easy to deride and take lightly. They can't even use normal words, who can take them seriously?

Of course, neither Kim Jong Un nor his ghostwriter said "dotard." The word shows up twice in the English version:

Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say.


I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.

The Korean, for those able to play along, was the following:

말귀를 알아듣지 못하고 제할소리만 하는 늙다리에게는 행동으로 보여주는것이 최선이다.


미국의 늙다리미치광이를 반드시,반드시 불로 다스릴것이다.

I don't really object to the translations. The statement clearly wanted to achieve hyperbole, and there's no way to soften that and give a true translation. The word 늙다리, translated as "dotard" doesn't really have a better translation. Other ones might have been equally good, though: old coot, buzzard, dinosaur, etc. It's an old person whose age has weakened his/her faculties. (Did that many people really have to look up the meaning of "dotard" in English? That was surprising to me.)

It's not that unusual a word in Korean, though. It can be used about anything old. An old animal that's past its prime can be a 늙다리.  I think most adult Koreans would know what the word means, unlike (much to my surprise) most Americans with the word "dotard." It isn't, in other words, a particularly strange thing to say in Korean. On the scale of KCNA pronouncements, it's actually kind of normal.

I wouldn't  begrudge folks having a laugh over such a pedantic point, except that it seems like the U.S. media has only one note with North Korea, which is to make fun of everything it does or says. It's all just a big joke, all the time. Well, it's not a joke to North Korea. It's an existential matter for them. Nobody there is laughing.


  1. I was so hoping you'd say something about this.

    My tweeps weren't laughing at NK - they were laughing at how appropriate the remarks were. Strange times we live in.

    1. Yes, it does seem like there's a lot of anti-Trumpism coming out in a strange way in the reaction to Kim's speech. Like that Chelsea Handler tweet. (Am I supposed to know who she is? Every time she tweets something provocative, people act like I'm supposed to know who she is.) People hashtagging "dotard," and kind of agreeing with someone like Kim Jong Un in a statement that includes bringing fire to the United States. I have a friend who keeps insisting that in the multiverse, we might live in one of the dumbest possible timelines. I'm starting to agree with him.