Origin of feckless
OTHER WORDS FROM fecklessfeck·less·ly, adverbfeck·less·ness, noun
WORDS THAT MAY BE CONFUSED WITH fecklessfeckless , reckless
Words nearby feckless
MORE ABOUT FECKLESS
What does feckless mean?
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.
Pouring money into a feckless boyfriend is like investing in a company you own no part of.
— Solomon Olumide S (@emnifeelinboyya) August 9, 2016
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.
A player who would revolutionise United’s feckless midfield. Instead, the club want Sean Longstaff. Because he’s English and well, cheap? https://t.co/mHOHUNGBjJ
— Grant Robbins™️💦 (@TrequartistaTM) June 25, 2019
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.
Last week was tough, I miss my daughter so much & sometimes I just need to get off the bus and look after me. Yesterday I found a new knitting group, met some lovely ladies, bought yarn had a few pints and tea out with Mr J & came home to this feckless lazy Hound! Little steps! pic.twitter.com/uwu6mqyma8
— Rebecca Jackson (@RJaks4) June 23, 2019
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
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.
How to use feckless in a sentence
My “artist formerly known as Bill Cosby” thing feels especially feckless and mealymouthed now.
Some have suggested Garland’s Justice Department wouldn’t pursue those who are most culpable out of misplaced sentiment that such prosecutions would smack of politics, calling the attorney general feckless and the wrong man for the job.Merrick Garland Must Follow Through With His Commitment to Hold All January 6 Perpetrators Accountable|Joyce White Vance|January 6, 2022|Time
Critics, however, say the process is feckless because any response typically comes days later—meaning the stories have already reached an enormous audience.
Still, the video is a reminder of how feckless U.S. efforts to free American hostages have become.A 26-Year-Old Woman Is ISIS’s Last American Hostage|Shane Harris|November 17, 2014|DAILY BEAST
This disdain stems from anger at intrusive Congressional action and feckless Congressional inaction.Former Lobbyist Jack Abramoff On Congressional Travel Disclosure|Jack Abramoff|July 4, 2014|DAILY BEAST
In contrast to the feckless Iraqi commanders who fled Mosul, these Iranian forces are disciplined, motivated, and ruthless.
Strategic recklessness aside, the chief problem with the plan was that it needed a weak, feckless opposition.Jim DeMint’s New Obamacare Attack: It Wasn’t Approved|Jamelle Bouie|October 18, 2013|DAILY BEAST
And this, in turn, is exactly what makes Obama's failure to take decisive action amid Egypt's crisis all the more feckless.
I'm a poor black feckless sheep—childer may clem for aught I can do, unless, parson, yo'd help me?'North and South|Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
I will never have seen such a feckless creature of a woman; surely all there was of her would tell her ay or no.The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson - Swanston Edition Vol. 11 (of 25)|Robert Louis Stevenson
McDonald told me privately that it was 'nae sa bad; a deal better than Pete's feckless bellow.'Days Off|Henry Van Dyke
I'll ne'er fash mysell, nor lose my liking for sae feckless a matter as a nine days' clash.Rob Roy, Complete, Illustrated|Sir Walter Scott
The feckless babblers sit upon the strange egg until it gives forth its living contents.Jungle Folk|Douglas Dewar