Printable Version
Pronunciation: fek-les Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Weak, ineffective, having no feck, no vigor or energy.

Notes: We love to expose false orphan negatives. Orphan negatives are negative adjectives and nouns with no corresponding positive forms, such as hapless, inane, unkempt. We have already pointed out that disgruntle is not one. Well, feckless isn't either. Feck is vigor, energy, effectiveness, and those who have it are feckful.

In Play: I have heard complaints of the fecklessness of the US Congress, but will not pass them on here. Today's Good if negative Word does, however, refer to weakness and inefficiency: "Writing a petition is such a feckless way to change things, Credenza; why not just marry the president's son?" Many of us suffer from it some time in our lives: "Cookie Baker is a feckless little wife who does whatever her husband tells her to do."

Word History: The Scottish conversion of grammar to glamour demonstrated the creativity of the Scots' contribution to English. Today we see the Scots at it again: feck is an aphetic form of effect that arose in Scotland. "Aphesis" is the dropping of an initial unaccented vowel, carried to extremes in the US South, where you hear 'possum for opossum, 'coon for raccoon, even 'gator for alligator. In this case, the Latin borrowing was converted into a purely English root, which was then available for English affixation, such as feckful "effective" and feckless "ineffective", paralleling synonymous Latinate forms. (We are grateful to Jeremy Busch for the highly feckful recommendation of today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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