Feckless: Ineffectual, lacking purpose or vitality; irresponsible. Originally a Scottish dialect word (along with its antonym, feckful) in which feck is a shortened form of effect. Entered English in the late 16th century; popularized by Thomas Carlyle in the early 19th century. (Carlyle, 1823: “I am so feckless at present that I have never yet had the heart to commence it.”)
Feckless was in the news last week when Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, used it to castigate President Obama’s Mideast policy in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show.
Source: Today on the Trail, September 13, 2012.
The feck in feckless is unrelated to the Irish feck, which, as Stan Carey explains, is a minced oath, “occupying ground between the ultra-mild expletive flip and the often taboo (but also popular) fuck.” This Irish feck is the one appropriated by FECKiN Irish Whiskey, a brand I wrote about last year. Used as recommended, 80-proof FECKiN Irish whiskey is very feckful indeed.
The four cows in "Cold Comfort Farm" are called Aimless, Graceless, Pointless, and Feckless. (The bull is Big Business; the Starkadder family live in fear of Aunt Ada Doom and a character named Laura Smiling has a French maid called Riante. Stella Gibbons' character names are a major part of the fun of that book.)
Posted by: john | September 17, 2012 at 08:19 AM
Great explanation of feckless.
Semi-relatedly, another word w/the suffix -less is ruthless. I've always found this word odd. I'd imagined that the 'ruth' is related to 'wrath', but if so why would the agent associated w/that word be lacking in 'wrath,' rather than have lots of it. Perhaps then, the 'ruth' and 'wrath' aren't related, after all.
Posted by: Philipsturner | September 17, 2012 at 09:46 AM
Philipsturner: Correct, the "ruth" in "ruthless" has nothing to do with wrath. It comes from an Old English word that meant "pity" and is related to "rue."
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | September 17, 2012 at 10:04 AM
I think that in your first sentence you are using the word "iteration" in a current sense that I haven't entirely caught up with.
Posted by: empty | September 18, 2012 at 05:04 PM