January 21, 2010

feckless, feck

  Arianna Huffington's
 book about becoming
 a political liberal.

A conservative
critic's mocking 

  response to 
SaberPoint stogiechomper@gmail.com  

[FEK-less]  adj.


1. (of a person) lacking in efficiency or vitality : a feckless mama's boy.
2. unthinking and irresponsible : the feckless exploitation of the world's natural resources.—NOAD

"Our professorial president is no feckless W., biking through Katrina."Maureen Dowd, NYTimes,  OP-ED, "Captain Obvious Learns the Limits of Cool," Jan. 9, 2010.
"Yet if presidents have accrued too much power, if the Congress is feckless, if the national security bureaucracy is irretrievably broken, the American people have only themselves to blame."—Daniel Johnson, America:a nation of "Damned Fools,"  Salem news.com, Jan. 1, 2010.
fecklessly (FEK-lis-lee) adverb; fecklessness (FEK-lis-nis) noun.

Eugene Ehrlick in The Highly Selective Dictionary of Golden Adjectives for the Extraordinarily Literate narrates the following etymology for feckless:
From Scottish and northern English feck, meaning "effect," + -less, an adjectival suffix meaning "without," thus "without effect."
Which makes one wonder whether there is also a feckful and, as it turns out, there once was a feckful in Scottish and in the English spoken in England's north. It meant "efficient, powerful."  Apparently, nothing beats being full of feck." (New York: HarperCollins, 2002.)
During recent years the Irish have been not at all feckless in their open use of the exclamatory phrase "feck off," which, of course, sounds very much like the expletive "f*ck off."  There is no semantic connection  between feckless and feck, other than the words' obvious shared syllable, "feck." In point of fact, the Irish imperative feck  derives from the expletive f*ck which, the OED tells us "remains (and has been for centuries) one of the English words most avoided as taboo."

After I learned about a recent dust-up in Ireland over public use of feck — as in "feck off," "you feck," and "feckin' 'ell"— I just could not resist sharing with you the following account.

I discovered that the Irish have collectively created a quasi-benign meaning for feck and during recent years have supported its rising incidence in print and speech.

Feck in this snarly sense bloomed in popularity on the Irish isles during the past decade largely because of its repeated use by the characters of a popular UK television situation comedy  named "Father Ted," which enjoyed a three year run in the late 1990s.

 Father Ted as portrayed
 by actor Dermot Morgan  

Eventually, the exclamatory phrase "feck off" appeared on an advertising poster for Mangers Irish Cider, upsetting a group of parents who wanted to protect their children from needless encounters with the word. The group filed a complaint with the UK's Advertising Standards Authority.

Following is the outcome of that complaint as described by The Daily Record on Dec. 10, 2008:
Headline: 'Feck' is not swearing, say advertising watchdogs
IT'S OK to use the word "feck" in conversation - thanks to Father Ted. Watchdogs have decided it is not a swearword after probing complaints about its use on a poster for cider.
The Advertising Standards Authority received a complaint after a Magners advert showed an orchard keeper saying: "Feck off bees."The Irish firm insisted he was merely issuing "a mild rebuff" - and not cursing. Feck has been around in various forms in Ireland since the early 1800s. And it was made famous in phrases such as "feck off" and "feckin' eejit" in the 90s sitcom Father Ted. In particular, drunken priest Father Jack, played by actor Frank Kelly, used it liberally to replace the other F-word.
And as they refused to uphold the complaint, the regulators said: "The use of the word feck in Britain has been popularised by TV programmes such as Father Ted. "We considered that the tone of the ad was not aggressive or threatening. "The term feck was unlikely to be seen as a swearword." It claimed the use of the word would not offend adults and was not unsuitable to be seen by children either. 
The blogger at Swordplay posed and answered (aptly, in my view) a provocative rhetorical question about the appropriateness of the ASA's decision, to wit:
A feckless disregard for decency, or an informed take on the Protean nature of language? We’re opting for the latter. (Swordplay www.spada.co.uk Dec. 10, 2008.)
Finally, for the record, I should note that the Irish also use feck informally in three nonexclamatory senses: (1) "to steal" (e.g. 'They had fecked cash out of the rector's room'); or (2) "to throw" (e.g. 'He's got no manners at all.  I asked him nicely for the remote control, and he fecked it across the table at me.'); or (3) "to leave hastily" (e.g. "He's after feckin off down the road when he saw the shades!") —Wikipedia.

For a YouTube stream of scenes presenting "Father Ted" characters declaiming "feck" phrasesclick here: Father Ted - Holy Swearing.

Even on welcome mats.