Feckless and Feckful


Some words are best known in one negative variation – disgruntled, gormless, and feckless spring to mind. I mean, how often do we talk about being gruntled, gormed, or feckful? This week I’m taking a look at feckless and feckful.

Feck itself is a popular slang word in the English spoken in Ireland (hiberno-english). It’s used as a very mild version of a similarly spelled curse. Its history and use is explained brilliantly by Stan Carey in this Journal.ie article. He even explains that the Esperanto term for shit is fek, but this is likely to be coincidental. You can read more about hiberno-english and feck, or indeed fecker, on Blather.

However feck, feckless, and feckful actually entered English from Scotland. Feck is a Scottish term that means effect, essentially it was a shortening of the word effect. Robbie Burns and Robert Louise Stevenson both used it to mean a large quantity (“He had a feck o’ books wi’ him”). It reached English in the late 1500s as a term for effect, value, or vigour.

The witch Cailleach Beara felt feckful right up to the moment of her beheading

If somebody has feck then they are feckful – efficient, energetic, and powerful. Equally if they are feckless then they are lacking all those attributes and pretty useless as a result. The English language has plenty of ways to denigrate somebody as useless, but apparently we needed one more as feckless gained ground and feckful fell by the wayside over time to the point where we only really use feckless now.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)


3 thoughts on “Feckless and Feckful

  1. BLANDCorporatio

    May I be that annoying nerd with the “citation needed” sign? 😛

    Indeed, some adjectives in the English language are in the odd position of having only negative forms. Us being creatures of habit and pattern, we may use such gaps for occasional comedic effect, such as some philosopher describing his job as “effing the ineffable”.

    “Effable” is also defined in wiktionary.org as “(archaic) Able to be spoken of; able to be expressed.” Which is funny, because the one textual attestation they give is from 1996! (Do y’all feel archaic yet?)

    Obviously, all words are made up. At some point, one guy’s linguistic flight of fancy becomes established, such as “chortle”, “galumphing”, or more recently “truthiness”. It’s a spectrum, and it’s hard to say when what happens — possibly a blog topic already seen here but I’m new to these parts.

    But, I don’t know about you, I just can’t treat “effable”, or “feckful” for that matter, as a “serious” English word. Not yet.


  2. wordfoolery Post author

    Effable I have yet to investigate but feckful is an English word, albeit a rarely used one, and that’s explained in the Merriam Webster dictionary link I provided in my post. Wordfoolery is all about fooling with words, “serious” words need not apply.


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