The dual identity of “the man” in American slang perplexes me. We say “Damn the man” or “Don’t let the man get you down” to sneer at establishment figures, from the police to nameless powers-that-be. Yet at the same time, perhaps even in the same conversation, we praise peers’ success by declaring “You’re the man!” or “You the man!” (“You’re the woman/You the woman” is basically nonexistent, replaced instead with the cheer “You go girl!”)
The word “feckless” has been cropping up a lot as of late.
Longtime GOP strategist Steve Schmidt deployed it in a recent denouncement of the Republican Party’s devolution into a Trumpian cult: “[The GOP] is filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party’s greatest leaders.” Kathy Griffin used the f-word when taking Melania Trump to task for not standing up more to her bully bigot husband: “You know damn well your husband can end this [child separation] immediately… you feckless, complicit piece of shit.” And Samantha Bee employed “feckless” with aplomb when she famously and controversially called Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt.” *
That said, today’s Fun with Words explores the etymological origins of “feckless,” which today is primarily used to mean “weak” or “worthless,” “ineffective” and “impotent.” And that’s pretty much what it’s always meant, ever since its arrival on the linguistic scene in the 1590s, when Scottish vernacular truncated “effect” to form “feck,” meaning, “vigor, effect or value.” Used in a sentence: “Ivanka Trump is a valueless [noun of choice here].”
“Feckless” should not be confused with Irish “feck,” a milder form of “fuck.”
It’s worth noting: The Online Etymology Dictionary says that though the term’s been around since the late-sixteenth century, it was popularized in the mid-nineteenth, due to Thomas Carlyle’s penchant for using it. He wrote in 1823, for example, “I am so feckless at present that I have never yet had the heart to commence it.” He was also apparently quite fond of “feckless’” opposite, “feckful,” which has since fallen out of use.
*Also, as an aside The Etymology Dictionary entry on “cunt” is one of the longest I’ve ever seen. The first usage apparently dates back to 1230, and referred to a prostitution track called gropecuntlane, a location name that speaks volumes about how women have been treated throughout history. (It’s also very Trumpian…)
Cunt subsequently used to varying degrees throughout Europe, often with different apparent origins — wedge, hollow place, just woman — but always with the same rough meaning. It wasn’t until the 1600s that people started taking offense to it. And clearly opinion remains divided today: obviously some really don’t like it, as seen in outrage of Bee’s usage, while others are firmly in Sally Field’s camp:
This semi-regular feature, Fun with Words (aka Etymological Adventures), has previously explored the linguistic roots of collusion, a word with which we’re all familiar due to – well, you know: Donald Trump and his constellation of cronies’ shady dealings. Today we’ll briefly explore another once-rarish term that Trump’s thrust into our everyday usage, collusion’s cousin by association: obstruction.
Born from the Latin word, obstructionem, itself the offspring of Ob, Latin for “in front of,” and the verb strurer, for “to pile or build,” the term “obstruction” emerged in English around the 1530s, and translated literally into “building up” or “creating a barrier” – a barrier like a wall, which, as we all know, real estate mogul Trump wants to make literal at the Mexican border.
In the meantime, Trump’s busying himself building a rhetorical wall against justice, a barrier built through lies and coercion, through acts like intervening in the Michael Flynn case; firing James Comey over his refusal to intervene in said case; drafting a faux narrative for Donald Trump Jr. to regurgitate vis a vis his meeting with Russians; Trump’s recent politicized demands that the DOJ investigate the FBI; and let’s not forget the barriers created by Trump’s unsubtle attacks on people involved in these investigations, not least of all against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whom Trump has tried to influence by warning him not to nose around his personal finances…. All of this and more builds up a wall of lies and obfuscation that is the very definition of obstruction.
Perhaps one day truth, justice and karma will tear down that wall, burying Trump in a mess of his own making.
(For more Fun with Words, click here!)
Today’s the 150th anniversary of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial getting underway in the Senate. What better time, then, to take an Etymological Adventure into “impeachment,” a word we’ve been hearing a lot of lately and will no doubt continue hearing until Donald Trump is out of office?
The term “impeach” as we know it is traced to the late 1300s, meaning “to impede” or “to hinder,” but evolved from the Old French empeechier, which came from the Latin “impedicare,” which sounds like a luxurious pedicure but which actually means “to fetter, catch, or entangle” from “in,” in, and “pedica,” “shackle/fetter.”
Impeach was first applied to public officials in the 1560s, perhaps because of its similarity to “impetere,” which means to attack, according to Etymology Dictionary, and “impeachment” became officially ingrained in political lexicons in the 1640s, when Charles I impeached Canterbury Archbishop William Laud for “running a state within a state.” That was a trumped-up charge, of course — unlike claims that Trump’s in Russia’s pocket. And considering Trump fired Rex Tillerson the day after Tillerson blamed Russia for the UK spy poisoning, that’s looking more and more like fact.
Oh, and spoiler alert: the Senate failed to impeach Johnson.
Donald Trump and his cable news sock puppet Sean Hannity have been trumpeting the claim that Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for election meddling “vindicates” Trump (pictured) and his campaign in the collusion case.
Again, this is not true, but it’s worth noting I think that while the 1640 definition of “vindicate” is “to clear from censure or doubt, by means of demonstration,” the word’s 1620’s root is much more violent, “to avenge or revenge,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.
In Trump World, even a claim — or, rather, lie — like “Trump cleared” becomes bloodthirsty and ugly. He and his ilk are incapable of not seeing red. “SAD!”
(For more Fun with Words, aka Etymological Adventures, click here.)