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: