As some of you may know, Kim Jong-un has referred to Donald Trump as a “dotard“, and this has caused a good deal of comment. Does this mean that Kim has “cracked open what apparently was a 1922 edition of the OED and called the president a “dotard.”” ? Maybe, or maybe not. The western press loves to make fun of Asian governments using badly translated idioms from their own languages or messing up western idioms. Those wacky, primitive Asians!
At least some people in the West knew exactly what Kim’s speech writers meant when they put this word in. It appears in the Lord of the Rings, and some of us looked it up when we first read it. ‘Folly.?’ said Gandalf. Nay, my lord, when you are a dotard you will die. [speaking to Denethor] When I first saw the quote from Kim I sort of assumed everyone knew the word. Honestly, it is in LOTR, that is not exactly obscure to some people.
So what does this tell us? Is the North Korean propaganda apparatus filled with Tolkien fans? Or is their understanding of modern idioms based on an idiosyncratic selection of foreign texts? I would guess that it is the latter, but the former would be cooler and more optimistic.
Maybe Kim himself is a Tolkien fan. The Kims are notorious movie buffs, and while I assume there was a Korean translation of LOTR even before the movies came out, even if there was no translation before, Kim could have ordered one. I could see how the metaphor of a hermetically sealed kingdom ruled by and overlord opposed by all others could be applied to N. Korea, although maybe Kim does not see himself as Sauron. Or maybe he does. (I wrote that as a joke, but now that I think about it, it may explain things.)