What does feckless mean?


Feckless describes an irresolute, weak, or ineffective action or person. Content warning: This article contains some strong language.

Examples of feckless


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
Look at Egypt, Libya, Turkey & Syria right now & you can see what happens when the USA becomes and weak and feckless player in the world.
@littlepol, July 2013
Susie is a school secretary, young, lovely and with a taste for romance and the high life. Swept off her feet by the heartless, feckless Jonathan, she soon finds herself in a world of trouble, out of work, out of money and out of love ...
@Antonia_Author, June 2019

Where does feckless come from?

Warner Bros. / Wikipedia

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 your 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 said: “Let me just say, one mother to another, do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless cunt!” 

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.

Who uses feckless?

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.

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