Feck

There are many words we commonly use in the negative without ever having used, or even been aware of, their positive – and root – counterpart.  Some examples include impeccable, untoward, ruthless, uncouth and disgruntled. Their positive opposites sound foreign and unfamiliar to us: peccable (liable to error), toward (propitious), ruthful (compassionate), couth (good manners), and gruntled (satisfied).  Today’s word fits nicely into this category of the forgotten opposites.


feck n. 1. [Scot.] effect; efficacy; value  2. [Obsolete] influence; weight; force  3. [Scot.] quantity; amount.

We are much more accustomed to the more familiar feckless, meaning “ineffective, incompetent, feeble or lazy.”  As our English goes, there can hardly be the word feckless unless its opposite cousin feck exists.  And so it does, as a word originating from Scotland.  It’s primary use is to denote efficacy or efficiency.  It is deemed to be an aphetic form of effect (aphetic being the adjective form of aphesis, the linguistic phenomenon of the loss of an unstressed initial vowel or syllable).  Therefore, what started out as effect, through a feckless manner (in the lazy sense), became just simply feck.  Feck also gave rise to a now obsolete word, feckful, meaning “vigorous, powerful.”  Feck can also be found as an Irish slang verb for “to fetch, gain or seek.”  James Joyce took the term one step further in Ulysses writing of “fecking matches from counters,” extending the verb to include petty theft.  But this has nothing to do with the feck described above and has a different past.

So remember that these opposite cousins are easily evitable (able to be avoided), but can often be gainly (elegant), and even the most feckless among us can be corrigible (capable of being corrected).

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  1. #1 by berenike on January 21, 2010 - 9:16 am

    You’ve not considered the most famous use!

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