feckless

[ fek-lis ]
/ ˈfɛk lɪs /

adjective

ineffective; incompetent; futile: feckless attempts to repair the plumbing.
having no sense of responsibility; indifferent; lazy.

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Origin of feckless

1590–1600; orig. Scots, equivalent to feck, late Middle English (Scots) fek, aphetic form of effeck (Scots form of effect) + -less

OTHER WORDS FROM feckless

feck·less·ly, adverbfeck·less·ness, noun

WORDS THAT MAY BE CONFUSED WITH feckless

feckless reckless
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does feckless mean?

Feckless describes an irresolute, weak, or ineffective action or person.

Content warning: This article contains reference to some strong language.

Where does feckless come from?

Feckless seems like an unlikely word to make news in the internet age, sounding more like something you’d see in a letter in the 18th-century about someone’s unambitious relative. And indeed, feckless has a fairly old pedigree, recorded in the late 1500s. This Scots word is based on feck, which can refer to “vigor” or “efficiency,” and is a clipped form of effect. So, feckless is “lacking feck,” hence “ineffective.”

Feckless one of many –less words in English that retains a base noun we’ve otherwise largely lost (e.g., ruthless, reckless, hapless, gormless). And, in case you’re wondering, feckless does have a counterpart in (the rare or humorous) feckful.

But, humble feckless was catapulted into publicity on May 30, 2018, when comedian Samantha Bee dropped it (and another very choice word) on her news satire show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

Amid the controversy of the Trump administration’s migrant family separation policy that year, Ivanka Trump tweeted a photo of herself and her child. On a segment of her show lambasting the perceived obliviousness of the photo, Bee criticized Ivanka by calling her feckless (and that other very choice word we alluded to above).

The White House (along with others) condemned the comment, and Samantha Bee issued an apology the following day. But, the word feckless (and that other stronger word) went buzzing in search interest and in the media after the incident.

How is feckless used in real life?

Feckless is widely used as a forceful adjective fired at someone felt to be inadequate, weak-willed, or ineffective at their job or in life.

It’s especially used in political contexts (a trend already noted in the early 2010s, before Samantha Bee’s comments), where it may be paired with insults, including coward or other, stronger C words (thanks to Bee).

Of course, it’s not all politics with feckless, which also finds a home in plenty of sports contexts, too.

One sub-usage is the phrase the feckless poor, which is like an older, British version of the “welfare queen” (i.e., the stereotype that the poor are lazy and undeserving of benefits).

But it’s not always so mean, feckless. Sometimes it can be used in a more lighthearted, ironic way.

More examples of feckless:

“It’s not the first time a wealthy investment analyst has characterised [sic] coffee drinking as feckless spending”
—Emma Brockes, The Guardian, June 2019

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for feckless

British Dictionary definitions for feckless

feckless
/ (ˈfɛklɪs) /

adjective

feeble; weak; ineffectual; irresponsible

Derived forms of feckless

fecklessly, adverbfecklessness, noun

Word Origin for feckless

C16: from obsolete feck value, effect + -less
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012