Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Without Feck

An online description for Turner Classic Movies described Rebel Without a Cause this way: “Volatile teens with feckless parents witness tragedy.” Feckless parents: you don’t see that every day.

The –less segment tells us that something is missing. What is missing is feck, described by the Oxford English Dictionary as an apparent aphetic of the word effeck, an old variant of effect, in the sense of “to become operative or to prove effective.” (Aphetic refers to the loss of a short unaccented vowel at the beginning of a word.)

Feckless first referred to physical objects, and it meant valueless or futile. Applied later to human beings, it came to mean lacking vigor, energy, or capacity; weak or helpless. Feckless parents, then, would be irresponsible parents, unable or unwilling to carry out their duties.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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