Definition: Having or resulting from a weak character or nature – Merriam-Webster
Feckless trended over the weekend, as Mike Pence utilized this word repeatedly during the 2016 vice presidential debate to describe his opposition. Ironically, the Huffington Post tried to poke fun at him for using a word that Americans don’t understand. But Pence was not breaking any new linguistic ground; politicians and the media have regularly requisitioned feckless for use as ammunition in their sophomoric rhetoric in the past several years, especially when that rhetoric is referencing Barack Obama. Just take a look at these headlines:
Hillary Called Obama ‘Incompetent and Feckless’ in Boozy Rant – New York Post
Obama’s Feckless Foreign Policy and the Spinmeister Who Helped Sell the Iran Nuke Deal – CNS News
Chris Christie: Obama is a ‘Feckless Weakling’- The Washington Times
Figures. Raul Castro Blows Off Feckless Obama as He Touches Down in Cuba – Gateway Pundit
Obama the Feckless – Huffington Post
Interestingly, when you google “feckless _______” and insert the names Obama and Putin, the Obama
Search – at the time of my writing this – yields almost 163,000 more results than the Putin-feckless pairing.
Someone feckless is lacking in feck. And what, you may ask, is feck? Feck is a Scots term that means “effect” or “majority” and comes from an alteration of the Middle English effect. So something without feck is without effect, or ineffective. In the past, feckful (meaning “efficient,” “sturdy,” or “powerful”) made an occasional appearance. But in this case, the weak has outlived the strong: feckless is a commonly used English word, but feckful has fallen out of use.
Now, if you’re thinking of bringing the stronger version back, be careful when you go to Ireland. The Irish use feck as a euphemism for a certain phonetically similar four-letter word.
If you’re a fan of British indie band alt-J, you may have first encountered feckless in the lyrics to their song “Fitzpleasure”: