Last night, during the VP debate, Governor Pence repeatedly said that Obama Administration leadership had been “feckless.” He repeated the refrain three or four times, so I assume it was part of the advice from his Prep team or speech writer to call Obama and Clinton feckless. While I must assume Pence knew what the word meant to have used it so often, I have to question how many Americans listening to the VP debate knew what the word “feckless” means. They probably know it is a bad thing to say about a President or political candidate, in part because it just sounds so bad, “FECKless!”
But that leads to the question of “What’s the feck?” What does the word really mean? If feckless is a bad thing, what is the opposite, the antonym of feckless. “Feck” comes to us from the old Scots langauge and passed into old and Middle English. We no longer use the direct opposite “feckful,” I suspect we still use feckless, because Shakespeare liked to use it, “this feckless knave.” But, Shakespeare never used “feckful,” hence its obsolescence. And, the Middle English and modern English users Frenchified “feck” into a more common and less pejorative sounding word “effect.” They also gave “feck” an English verb “affect.” So, “feckless” is actually the synonym of “ineffective.”
Since it is most often used now as a pejorative for a government policy or leader, i often misused by people like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh as though it meant slothful or incompetent, but it really just means ineffective. Also, it is incorrect to use it as a pejorative for something you disagreed with, or when that leader or policy did something you did not like, because if it actually did something, it is not feckless.