The meanings and origins of ‘feck’

Look away now if curse words bother you.

Feck is a popular minced oath in Ireland, occupying ground between the ultra-mild expletive flip and the often taboo (but also popular) fuck. It’s strongly associated with Irish speech, and serves a broad range of linguistic purposes that I’ll address briefly in this post.

The most familiar modern use of feck is as a euphemistic substitute for fuck, as in the phrases Feck!, Feck off!feck it, feck-all, fecker, feck(ed) up, fair fecks (kudos), (for) feck(‘s) sake, fecked (exhausted, ruined, in a bad situation), and the intensifier feckin’ or fecking, which often collocates with eejithell, gobshite or some such insult.

Here are a few literary examples:

I’m so feckin’ hungry I could eat that feckin’ horse. (Amanda Whittington, Ladies’ Day)

Feck off Greeley or I’ll call the Guards and have you deported. (Peter Murphy, Lagan Love)

Oh thank Christ the fecker’s over. A pile of fecking shite. (Martin McDonagh, The Cripple of Inishmaan)

Ah Johnnypateen, will you feck off home for yourself? (same)

I went on clinging to the wall until old Fanning appeared at his front window and made feck-off gestures of great savagery. (Hugh Leonard, Out After Dark)

poster by Fergus O’Neill at

Feck and fuck do not overlap entirely. Feck is family-friendly, even according to advertising standards authorities (though not always). As expletives go, it has a playful, unserious feel. People who are genuinely furious – as opposed to merely annoyed – or who want to be properly abusive, tend not to use feck: it just isn’t forceful enough.

There are significant differences between feck and fuck aside from their relative strengths as curses. For one thing, feck doesn’t have sexual uses or connotations. To feck something in Hiberno-English generally means to steal it (see below) or to throw it, often impatiently or casually: she fecked the orange peel out the car window.

Decked out in all his Dublin gear he stomped up the street suffering what may have been his first real taste of what defeat can do [to] a passionate soul. Off came the scarf and he fecked it into a garden. [via]

The word got a boost from its recurrent use in the 1990s TV comedy Father Ted, in which Father Jack shouts “Feck off!” regularly enough to make it a catchphrase. Here’s Pauline McLynn, playing Mrs Doyle, mouthing off to Dermot Morgan’s eponymous priest about the “fierce” language in a novel she read:

Searching Twitter for feck, fecker, fecked and so on shows how actively and naturally the word is used. Its tonal range is likewise impressive: fecker, for instance, can suggest affection or admiration as well as indicating dismissal or derision, while feck off meaning “depart” needn’t have negative implications: Will we feck off home at this stage?

Feck appears quite frequently in Irish newspapers, sometimes in reported speech:

“I haven’t an effin’ clue what he’s talking about,” the councillor whispers to the journalists. “But, feck it, it sounds absolutely brilliant!” (Lorna Siggins, Irish Times)

When we attack all out, with no feck-acting, football becomes a great game again. (Billy Keane, Irish Independent)

Feck also functions as a noun, dating from at least the 15th century. Apparently it comes from a Scottish variant of effect, so it’s a good example of aphesis (also aphaeresis): the loss of an initial sound in a word. Here are the three senses included in the OED:

1. The greater or better part; a great quantity [Robert Burns: “I hae been a devil the feck o’ my life”; Robert Louis Stevenson: “He had a feck o’ books wi’ him”].

2. The purpose, the intended result; the point (of a statement, etc.).

3. Efficacy, efficiency, value.  Feckful: efficient

(Feckless derives from the last of these. Fek is Esperanto for shit, but this is coincidental and incidental.)

In English As We Speak It In Ireland, P. W. Joyce says feck (or fack) is a spade, “from the very old Irish word fec,” while Bernard Share’s Slanguage says feck can mean “sight, spectacle” (from Irish feic “see”, same pronunciation) and is the name of a card game and an implement used in the game of pitch and toss. Terence Dolan also reports on this.

Feck as a verb once meant “keep a look out”, maybe from Irish feic. And then there is the Irish slang feck “steal, take”, which the Chambers Dictionary of Slang says may originate in Old English feccan “to fetch, gain, take”, or German fegen “to plunder”. We see this usage in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Because they had fecked cash out of the rector’s room.

So where does the curse, the not-quite-rude word, come from? It’s commonly assumed to stem from its coarser cousin fuck, the simple vowel change undercutting its power and making it more suitable for public expression. But Julian Walker, an educator at the British Library, offers a more roundabout route:

“In faith” becomes the improbable “in faith’s kin” shortened to “i’fackins”, which gradually shrinks to “fac” and “feck” . . .

The Irish writer Pádraig Ó Méalóid cites a couple of sources that point to the same etymological path, so he also doesn’t subscribe to the “euphemistic deformation theory” that feck as a euphemism came about by mimesis of fuck: “What we have instead is a euphemistic meaning layered on top of a much older existing expression”.

Feck me, but feck evidently has a feck-load of meanings, uses, and origins. More are welcome, as are your opinions and reports on how you say or hear or feel about the word.


More discussion of feck at Language Hat, and of feckless at Fritinancy.

If you were curious about the “Feck Off Rain” ad described in the ASAI link above, here it is. The wording itself was fine, but combined with the chocolate flake V-sign it proved too strong. Many thanks to Niamh for the photo, which she took on the Galway–Tuam road in May 2011.

Niamh has spotted another ad campaign using feck in a slogan: takeaway delivery service’s “Feck washing up”, seen on the billboard below. She grabbed the photo from a moving bus and sent it my way. Thanks, Niamh!

[more posts on Hiberno-English]

89 Responses to The meanings and origins of ‘feck’

  1. joy says:

    Is there any relationship between “feck” and “feckless?”

  2. Colin McCarthy says:

    Really interesting article! Incidentally, Sean Beecher (in his ‘Dictionary of Cork Slang’ The Collins Press 1991) describes Feck as a game, otherwise known as Pitch and Toss or 2-Up, involving coin tossing. He also includes the phrase ‘fecking around with’ i.e. being inconclusive, but states the derivation is unknown.

  3. Peter Harvey says:

    Once, when I was teaching in a school in Barcelona, a new Irish teacher started using ‘feck’ to the considerable surprise and embarrassment of English-speaking teachers and children around him.

  4. Stan says:

    Joy: Yes, feckless derives from an old noun sense of feck meaning efficacy, effect, value, vigour. There’s a short note about this under the OED definitions in the post.

    Colin: Thank you! It’s a very interesting word, with its assorted meanings and histories. Thanks also for the information from Beecher’s book. Fecking around seems similar enough to being feckless.

    Peter: Their reaction is understandable, given the word’s resemblance to fuck. I imagine people vary quite a lot in how vulgar they find it, or how inappropriate to a given situation.

  5. Shaun Downey says:

    I thought feck was the game and not just a omponent of pitch and toss….Ah I see Colin McCarthy has mentioned it already

  6. Diane Nicholls says:

    I have an email correspondent whose public-sector employer uses strict profanity filters on employees’ emails. These are completely immune to ‘feck’, so I use it as a replacement for, ahem, that other word, when I feel the need to use it but want my email to get under the radar. I do use it as a replacement for you know what but only in this context.

  7. Jan says:

    Is there a prize for the first poet who rhymes feckless with reckless?

    • NIKFEK says:

      If so, I win, because I did it in 2003 with the verse “Some people say I’m reckless/cause I’m in a band called Feckless/and I like to dance a hornpipe and I like a drop of beer/so if you think you’re able/then be dancing on the table/and if you don’t like dancing then be singing loud and clear

  8. Yvonne says:

    Or feckless with neckless, for those ducking fuck. :)

    Great, thorough post Stan. All my wonderings answered, particularly on the role of feic (see).

  9. Lane says:

    I had no idea it was so mild in Ireland.

  10. […] settembre 2012 – Si può trovare una dettagliata analisi sull’uso di feck in The meanings and origins of ‘feck’ di Stan Carey. […]

  11. Stan says:

    Shaun: It could be both. There’s a bit more on this in Dolan’s Hiberno-English Archive, linked above.

    Diane: Sounds like it comes in very handy for bypassing bad-language filters! This hadn’t occurred to me.

    Jan: The prize is a necklace.

    Yvonne: “Neckless necklace” might be pushing it, though. Thanks, Yvonne. I was curious about the feic connections myself. Feiceáil and co. were a source of minor amusement to me as a child.

    Lane: For most people, it is. A journalist on Twitter told me he has always used it because it was the limit of his mother’s swearing when he was young. I imagine that’s not unusual.

  12. Niamh says:

    @Lane, it’s as mild as you can get.
    Thanks for this great post. Loved reading it.

  13. wisewebwoman says:

    I remember my absolute shock when my straitlaced father used the word describing a hooligan who had stolen a horse.

    “He fecked the horse late at night out of the stable”.

    You can imagine my confusion as to what the fellow actually did.


  14. Tim says:

    The prize has been won by Joe Strummer of The Clash. In “Rudy Can’t Fail”:

    How you get a rude and a reckless?
    Don’t you be so crude and a feckless
    You been drinking brew for breakfast
    Rudie can’t fail

  15. alexmccrae1546 says:


    What the feck!

    Here in La La Land-central, U.S.A., w/ the recent well-publicized demise of a number of long-running, very popular daily soap operas on network TV, rumors are afoot that to fill the current afternoon programming void* in this genre, a new parody ‘soap’ is now in the works (‘in development’, in Hollywood parlance)—working title: “The Young and the Feckless”. I kid you not. (Well, I actually do… but what the feck, eh?)

    All appears to be very hush-hush in the guarded ‘Feckless’ camp, but the show’s producers have issued a recent PR statement in “Variety” claiming this will be a breakthrough half-hour of “feckless satire”, capturing the kinky romantic escapades, and wacky relationship twists of an intriguing ensemble of regular characters—basically a dysfunctional passel of grifters, no-counts, nymphomaniacs, androgens, and sociopaths who are unlucky in love, and really have few promising prospects in life. (Counterintuitively, sounds like great stuff, no?)

    The show is tentatively scheduled to air opposite the venerable ‘soap’, “The Young and the Restless”; curiously, also a show centered around a cast of feckless grifters, no-counts, ‘nymphos’, androgens, and sociopaths, but unlike ‘Feckless’, has way fewer funny lines and the regular ‘players’ tend to dress a lot more stylishly.

    Let the soap wars begin!

    Stay tuned folks.

    *Frankly, that afternoon programming void seems to be cluttered w/ more, and more sit-down talk shows, ironically, hosted mainly by stand-up comedians. (“Sit-down”/ “stand-up”….. get it?)

    Geez, those infernal star-making singing competition ‘reality shows’ are popping up like wild mushrooms run amok, these days—-the original American idol, The “X” Factor, The Voice, Duets, and the latest new-kid-on-the- block, “Next”. (I may be off on this show’s title, but it does air on the CW network here in the U.S., and appears to be a mere cheap clone of all the other sing-off type shows. Just a different cast of pro judges.)

    IMHO, sometimes we can have just too, too much of a good thing. (Not that all these ‘reality’ shows consistently exude quality, or excellence.)

  16. alexmccrae1546 says:



    Your dad’s statement does carry a lot of ambiguity, particularly since the verb “to feck”, in this case the past tense, “fecked”, isn’t one that most folk would likely recognize at-first-blush. (And something tells me you just might have been blushing on hearing THAT ONE?)

    The line, “He fecked the horse late at night out of the stable”, sounds like it could be a stage directive from the controversial play, “Equus”, where the young protagonist in the piece has an odd religious/ sexual fixation on horses, and eventually one particular horse, whom he elevates, in his disturbed imaginings, to God-like status.

    I recall that the young actor, Radcliffe, from the Harry Potter feature film series, had the starring role as lead player in a shortish Broadway run of “Equus”, a while back, and generally received high critical praise for his efforts. I gather there was a fair amount of nudity on stage, but Radcliffe was clearly ‘up’ for the part. (Oh behave!)

  17. Stan says:

    Niamh: You’re most welcome. Thanks for your visit.

    WWW: Ha! I sympathise with your shock. You must’ve been appalled for the poor horse. I’d say quite a few people have had a moment of similar confusion before learning this lesser sense of feck.

    Tim: Great stuff. I’d forgotten all about that lyric.

    Alex: Better feckless than reckless, so long as they don’t heckle us.

  18. alexmccrae1546 says:


    So would THAT make the non-hecklers, ‘heckless’? (D’oh!)

  19. loved the Joe Strummer lyric..
    A good time was had by all! The twisty turns of word research are smile making and mind boggling.

  20. Ken says:

    It also appears in an 18th century Dublin ballad “The night before larry was stretched, which is written in teh cant of teh time

    “A chalk on the back of your neck
    Is all that Jack Ketch dares to give you;
    So mind not such trifles a feck,
    Sure why should the likes of them grieve you?”

  21. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Interestingly, failed 2008 presidential aspirant, long-time Congressional senator from Arizona, John McCain, just yesterday, made a public statement accusing the current Obama administration of “following a feckless foreign policy”.

    Hmm…. as a key foreign relations senior advisor to the former president G.W. Bush administration, McCain could be viewed as enabler (one of many) of what many regard as following a “reckless”, hawkish foreign policy. (WMD in Iraq?)

    I’d much prefer to see a measured, restrained, yet proactive foreign relations posture than the reckless tack the Bush folks opted to pursue over his eight years in office. If that’s how McCain defines “feckless” in his knock against Obama’s strategies, then so be it.

    I’ll take “feckless”, over “reckless”, any day of the week.

  22. Stan says:

    Alex: “Heckless”? Hecksactly. Funny you should mention the McCain story: I heard (via Kory Stamper) that it led to feckless being the top look-up at Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary yesterday.

    Annie: Glad you enjoyed it! Feck has taken some twisty turns over the years, all right.

    Ken: That’s a great example, and the ballad is very interesting linguistically. Thank you.

  23. alexmccrae1546 says:


    That hapless “larry” from the 18th c. Dublin ballad you cited, was clearly going to be tortured (“stretched”) on the rack, or some other now archaic barbaric instrument of corporal punishment. (No water-boarding back then. Hmm….you’d think former G.W. Bush VP Dick Cheney’s ancient Irish kin would have thunk of that one. HA!)

    In sum, our “larry” was thoroughly “fecked”.

    @Stan. I could see why the on-the-face-of-it odd word “feckless” would have created quite a mad flurry of online dictionary searches, yesterday, after McCain’s provocative anti-Obama statement. With it’s similarity to the F-word , (w/ “less” merely tacked on), for some folk, I imagine, it’s slightly vulgar tone would prick some ears.

    Ah ha! The ‘uninitiated’ exclaims, prior to checking out the meaning; thinking, yes….. yet another naughty word to add to my repertoire of taboo words. (Sorry to disappoint…… “feckless” (at least its meaning), appears to be cleaner than the wind-driven snow.)

  24. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Just a minor ‘adjustment’ at the end of the third paragraph of my previous post.

    It should have read ‘prick up some ears’. I left out the “up”.

    I was attempting to echo the title of the somewhat controversial 1987-released film about Brit playwright, Joe Orton’s flamboyant life and sad, and violent demise; namely, “Prick Up your Ears”.

    “Prick some ears” sounds more like the preamble to getting an ear-piercing. Just sayin’.

  25. Enjoy the stress-test! Neil Gaiman just tweeted a link to this page!

    In other news: Fantastic article! As an Irishman, this made me laugh quite a feckin’ lot.

  26. Rebecca says:

    “feck” is also used in the Stoke on Trent area of the Uk to mean cigarette- quite surprising when, as a new teacher to the area, one of the parents said “do you want a feck behind this wall?”!

  27. Ado_Annie says:

    Feck all! I always wondered about feckless as well as gormless, both seeming to have the meaning of useless, silly, naive, even innocent depending on the context. Now I will have to google gorm.

  28. nhs76 says:

    On a parallel track, I was taken aback when I moved to Pittsburgh, PA and heard everyone from grandmothers to children using the personal insult “jagoff”. Like “feck”, it sounds like a euphemism for a word with a rude meaning but is actually closer to “jerk” in meaning, intensity, and social acceptability.

  29. […] begets aversion, and the language is awash with diluted expletives — like the Irish favourite feck. This is a minced oath, like frick and frak. These terms lose in force what they gain in public […]

  30. Regarding Alexmccrae1546’s “That hapless “larry” … was clearly going to be tortured (“stretched”) on the rack, or some other now archaic barbaric instrument of corporal punishment.” — In fact, Jack Ketch was an executioner, not a torturer (capital punishment, not corporal punishment) — the chalk-mark on the back of the neck was the target for his axe, although it is reliably reported that he rarely if ever succeeded in striking it cleanly …

  31. alexmccrae1546 says:


    Thanks for the clarification on “larry”s ultimate fate, and the actual role, all be it fictive (?), of Jack Ketch, in this dastardly affair. (So, indeed, not torture, but decapitation was in store for poor “larry’.)

    I figured the “chalk” reference had something to do w/ demarcating the ‘sweet-spot’ for a fatal axe blow upon the victim’s (in this case, our larry’s) neck, but the notion of “stretched” immediately brought to mind one of the most common, and effective modes of torture, back in the day…. the rack.

    But perhaps “stretched”, after your clarification, Philip, could be suggestive of “larry” being stretched out on the chopping block, the prelude to lopping off his head by the allegedly mediocre executioner, Jack Ketch.

    I recently watched an engrossing PBS TV documentary on the lives (and deaths) of the British monarchs thru the ages*, and was slightly repulsed by the execution scenario of Mary (Stuart) Queen of Scots, initiated by Queen Elizabeth I’s official decree, no less.

    As the chronicles of the day reported, poor Mary’s execution by beheading was thoroughly botched —- a definite flub of John Ketchian proportions.

    Apparently the first axe blow was an errant glancing strike that just partially gouged the base of Mary’s skull, whilst a quickly-followed second blow did strike her “stretched”, slender neck, full force, but failed to completely severe her now-dangling-by-a-sinew head. It was claimed that it took yet a third and final chop to the remaining narrow band of connecting tissue to finally completely sever Mary’s head from her now lifeless corpse. (Ugh!)

    *Seems like PBS has run a plethora of informative and entertaining Brit royals-related documentaries this summer. I’m sure partially
    in homage, or at least tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and the official celebration of her 60th Silver Commemorative Jubilee, earlier this year.

    Jolly good stuff, on the whole.

    • No, sorry, I did not explain as well as I might have done. Jack Ketch pre-dates poor Larry by some considerable time-span, during which period his name had simply become a generic and familiar name for an executioner (think of “Hoover” as the generic for vacuum cleaner, or “Biro” for ballpoint pen). By the time poor Larry was due for the chop (metaphorically, not literally), execution by axe was no longer practised, and he was instead destined for the gallows. This is the explanation of “stretch” — his neck is to be stretched, not the whole of his body.

  32. alexmccrae1546 says:


    Appreciate the followup clarification. Hanging by the noose, as opposed to dispatching by the chopping-block, it is.

    Guess that bit of arcane verse your cited could be construed as early “gallows humor”, although our Larry was likely not much amused.

    When I first read your “Hoover” as a “generic” term, I immediately jumped to conclusions, (prior to reading further), and thought you were citing J. Edgar (Hoover), representing perhaps the quintessential controlling, take-no-prisoners, authoritarian public ‘servant’….. who just happens to enjoy cavorting around, in private, sporting women’s undies, mesh stockings, and high heels. (Oh behave!)

    Parenthetically, I felt Leonardo DiCaprio, and his co-star Armie Hammer offered very credible individual acting performances in the feature film “J. Edgar”, directed by Clint Eastwood. (The major critics, however, were generally luke-warm to unfavorable in their critiques w/ this one.)

    For a man who was apparently feared, and despised by so many (Hoover, that is), director Eastwood, and screenwriter, Black, managed to portray a rather balanced picture of this complex and somewhat enigmatic figure, to the point where the viewer, at times, has genuine compassion for this totally power-driven, complicated, engaging character. But I digress.

  33. Ken says:

    Philip and alexmccrae1546:

    Yes the ‘stretched’ is referring to Larry being hung for some unspecified crime although it was probably treason as also in the song Larry indicates he will be quatered, hence the chalk on the back of his neck.

    The full verse is

    And then I’ll be cut up like a pie,
    And me nob* from me body be parted.
    “You’re in the wrong box, then”, says I,
    “For blast me if they’re so hard-hearted.
    A chalk on the back of your neck
    Is all that Jack Ketch dares to give you;
    So mind not such trifles a feck,
    Sure why should the likes of them grieve you?
    And now boys, come tip us the deck

    *nob means head.

    The song is about his friends visiting him the night before his excecution. The full lyrics are on wikipedia, if you can penetrate the obscure slang in the song.

    • Ken : Yes, I had looked at the Wikipædia entry, and whilst most of it seems sound I am unconvinced by the author’s tentative gloss of [17] (“^ A “Kilmainham look” may be something like a Ringsend tango or a Ringsend uppercut (a kick in the groin) – or perhaps not.”). The context is “Larry tipp’d him a Kilmainham look, And pitch’d his big wig to the divil.”, from the second part of which (and from the exact choice of words in the phrase) I would interpret a Kilmainham look as the Irish equivalent of a Glasgow handshake — a sharp blow with the brow of the head to the bridge of the adversary’s nose.

  34. Ken says:

    Sounds reasonable. Its fair to say it wasn’t a kindly gesture as Larry already expresses his contempt for the clergy in the line about confession:
    “That’s all in my eye,
    And all by the clargy invented,
    To make a fat bit for themselves”

    Frank Harte sings the definitive version of this which I think is on youtube if you’re interested.

  35. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Philip & Ken,

    Hmm….. just by-the-by, the conjunction of your two names, “Philip & Ken” would make for a fine talk-radio show marquee.

    “50 Ways to Dispatch Your Lover” * has a fine ring to it.(Just joshin’ there. HA! Much too morbid for the public airwaves, I’m afeared.) But I digress.

    Philip, your mention of a “Glasgow handshake” was a new one for me. I have a special affection for the once gritty wee ‘toon’ by the banks of the Clyde, since my granddad, Nichol, was born-and -raised there as a wee bairn, thru his teen years, and then as a young, enterprising lad eventually emigrated to Ontario**, Canada, in the early part of the last century.

    I had the pleasure of visiting, and exploring Glasgow, first hand, back in mid-summer, 1996, at the tail end of a week-long Scotland golf junket, and in just a short time gained considerable affection for the town. But I digress.

    Now back to that “Glasgow handshake”. Quite a brutal act, almost the equivalent of a phantom sucker punch.***

    On this side of The Pond, one of our great, high-profile Glasgow, Scotland boosters is comedian/ actor/ CBS late-night talk-show host, Craig Ferguson, an expat Scotsman, now a proud U.S. citizen, and former born-and-bred Glaswegian. (Still retains his charming, native Scots’ rhotic brogue.)

    Zany Craig, w/ his kind of shoot-from-the-hip (make that ‘lip’), adept character impersonations, his often slightly salty brand of humor, and uncanny ability to put most visiting show guest celebs at complete ease on the set, has majorly endeared himself to American (and Canadian, no doubt) audiences over his maybe 8 to nine year tenure on the show.

    On his late-night show (actually taped the afternoon-of), Craig will often harken back to, and reminisce about his rather hard-scrabble, misspent youth, hanging out, rough-housing, and basically getting into all manner of mischief, on the inner-city streets of his hometown, Glasgow—-as young, ignorant, working-class teens were wont to do, back in the day.

    He’s described in fairly gritty detail some of the scarier predicaments he’d gotten himself into as a young, mischievous lad, but to my knowledge never brought up the “Glasgow handshake”. (I can’t say I’m a consistent Craig Ferguson Show watcher, these days, so perhaps he has alluded to this rather brutal Scottish ‘practice’, and I just wasn’t tuned in on that particular evening.)

    Actually, Philip, thanks for sharing that term, i.e., the “Glasgow handshake”, because I’ve been kind of procrastinating for some time now in reading Craig Ferguson’s first novel, “Between the Bridge and the River”(pub. 2006), apparently a kind of semi-biographical, coming-of-age tale, set in the mean streets of late-’70, or early ’80s (?) Glasgow.

    I’m thinking there just might be at least one, or two “Glasgow handshake” incidents depicted in this unvarnished narrative about growing up, and merely surviving on the wrong side of the tracks….. or perhaps, in Craig’s case, the wrong side of the Clydebank.

    NOW, I’m definitely going to give Ferguson the read he so deserves.

    * Of course, I’m echoing the title of that great Paul Simon ditty, “50 Ways to Leave Your lover”. “Walk out the back Jack…” and all that. good stuff.

    **Collingwood, Ont,, on Lake Huron, was granddad’s first port-of-call, where he settled and found gainful employ in the then-thriving ship-building yards. I understand, back then, it had a similar feel, and bustling energy to Glasgow, also a noted major ship-building town.

    *** An unexpected sucker-punch to the abdomen apparently did in the great escape-artist, Houdini. He just didn’t see it coming.

    • Edward Barrett says:

      I’d imagine the geographic appellation is bestowed by someone not from the locale in question.

      There’s a (slightly contrived, or at least knowingly used) piece of Liverpool slang for a head-butt: ‘a Kirkby kiss’ – Kirkby being a town in Merseyside sometimes considered ‘rough’. I can’t imagine the residents using the slang.

  36. Stan says:

    Denis: So he did! And the blog survived the onslaught. Glad you enjoyed the article.

    Rebecca: Ha, I had no idea about that usage. Thanks for letting me know. I wonder if it’s restricted to Stoke on Trent, or if anyone’s idiolect allows them to “feck a (feckin’) feck”.

    Annie: I hope the post put feckless in context for you. There’s a brief but helpful etymology of gormless here.

    nhs76: That’s an interesting one. I think I’d’ve been taken aback too. Jagoff‘s original meaning was the same as jack-off or jerk-off, i.e. “masturbator” (Chambers dates this to the 1930s), but its connotations are obviously mild; as you say, it’s commonly used to mean just idiot or jerk. Apparently the word is also used as a verb, meaning mess around or tease.

  37. By a route I no longer recall, I ended up on a Malay blog today, and what did I find in only the second article I read ? “The geese were not so friendly though; they headbutted anyone who came close (hmm, they must have been from Glasgow!).” The world is surely full of co-incidences.

  38. alexmccrae1546 says:


    Your inadvertent stumble onto that Malay blog, today, and almost immediately finding an article about irate head-butting local geese was a regular hoot. (Hmm…. that should be head-butting owls w/ that “hoot” bit. Oh well…. now I’m getting silly.)

    But seriously, as a long-time avid birder, I’m quite familiar w/ the sometimes ornery nature of geese when they feel that their rightful space, or territory has been ‘invaded’.

    My limited experience (by choice HA!), particularly w/ those large, Asian-variety, pure white, yellow/ orange-billed domestic geese (w/ the huge knob on their upper bill), is that they generally exhibit their displeasure at humans invading their precious space by suddenly running forward at considerable speed, heads lowered, necks stretched to-the-max, and sharply nipping at one’s lower extremities, if the pursued individual happens to be slow-of-foot.

    As yet, I’ve never witnessed goose head-butting, per se, but I would not put it past them. (These are deceptively fierce creatures for their modest size, and not to be trifled with.)

    On the other hand, Canada Geese, although wild creatures, here in North America their numbers abound, and many have become very accustomed to close human interaction, and for the most part generally behave in a fairly docile, non-aggressive manner.

    During breeding season, however, adult Canada’s, w/ very young goslings in tow, will get a bit testy on the approach of humans, usually lowering their heads, moving slightly forward, hissing, and flapping their wings as a threat gesture. It’s the male of the mating pair that usually shows this protective, mild aggression.

    Sadly, in some states in the U.S., the burgeoning Canada Goose populations have become so problematic (perpetually pooping on golf courses, ravaging farmers fields, being airport hazards), that folks w/ special permits are now allowed to hunt these once fully-protected species, on a limited basis, to hopefully cull their numbers, and perhaps reduce their net destructive impact on the environment.

    Philip, as a cartoonist, I could picture a comical scenario centered on the dingy, mean-streets of Glasgow, being invade by a gaggle of gigantic, crazed kilted Scottish geese, totally running amok, bashing in the skulls* of stunned passersby w/ the “Glasgow handshake”. Mercy!

    *This cartoon scenario would work well if drawn by that masterful veteran cartoonist of the macabre, Gahan Wilson. He always manages to give his cartoons that gruesome, decadent air, combined w/ a touch of cheeky gallows humor.

    • I loved the penultimate paragraph, Alex; thank you for that. I have once been attacked by a goose (species forgotten) while walking across a stable yard. Without really thinking through the best defence, I seized it by the neck and stared straight into its eyes. When I released it, it appeared to recognise its vulnerability and walked meekly away.

  39. alexmccrae1546 says:


    That was quite the goose tale, there. I think you may have inadvertently hypnotized the stunned creature by staring it down.

    I recall about eight years back my geographer girlfriend was doing field research for her Phd. thesis at USC on urban attitudes toward domesticated city animals, and I happened to have joined her on a little excursion to a rather modest suburban farm in the semi-rural climes of Chatsworth*, CA. (A noted horsey, ranch community in the west San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.)

    The owner of the farm, a very affable older lady, was expecting us, and basically directed us to the main swinging wooden gate that led to the various horse and cattle stalls. She pretty much gave use free rein to just snoop around, and explore.

    Right off, we were surprised to see a most beautiful pair of adult llamas, one charcoal black, and the other a rich chocolate brown, as I recall. We were just so excited to be so up-close-and-personal w/ this pair of exotic Andean creatures, and proceeded to attempt to get closer, and pet them.

    All of a sudden, from seemingly out of nowhere, a trio of crazed giant white domestic geese came barrel-assing towards us from clear the across the yard, necks stretched, heads dipped almost to the ground, wings flapping wildly, all honking up a storm.(We hadn’t even provoked these irate birds.)

    Within seconds my girlfriend and I were high-tailing it toward the main gate, as the chasing geese were literally nipping at our heels in hot pursuit. As we quickly negotiated the wooden gate, and quickly closed it behind us, one of those determined geese actually got a good parting peck at the heel of my ‘fleeting’ shoe. But other than being scared out of our wits, we were none the worse for this memorable encounter w/ geese-gone-wild.

    Ironically, our visit started so placidly, and seeing those two sweet llamas was such a special treat. But alas, our sojourn was short-lived w/ those wacko geese-run-amok.

    We spoke to the lady ‘farmer’ on leaving, to thank her for allowing us to visit. We told her about our unexpected run-in w/ her troika of ornery geese, and she just kind of chuckled. Then she apologized for not warning us beforehand about the feathered furies, and proceeded to tell us the best way to deal w/ them. (Seemed a little bit after-the-fact for evasive action instructions.)

    *The late singing cowboy, Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans lived on sprawling ranch property in Chatsworth, for decades, even before the great suburban tract housing boom that transformed the greater San Fernando Valley from mainly prime agricultural lands (orange and lemon groves, soy bean fields, strawberry tracts, and the like), to a burgeoning middle and working class bedroom community.

    To think this is where Roy’s trusty horse Trigger spent his down- time when he wasn’t performing on the big screen in all those classic early oater films.

    After Trigger’s ultimate passing, Roy actually had his faithful steed stuffed-and-mounted in a dramatic rearing-up pose, and he ( the taxidermed Trigger) was on permanent display at the Roy Rogers’ Museum in Victorville CA for many years.

    A rather tasteless, morbid rumor was going around some Hollywood circles a number of years back that Roy Rogers had requested in his last-will-and-testament that he be mummified after his demise, dressed in his cowboy-best, and mounted on his stuffed horse Trigger. But the upshot of the story goes that wife Dale would have no part in such a bizarre scenario.

    (I think this tall tale has about as much credence as the rumor that Walt Disney’s head is cryogenically preserved somewhere in Burbank. This would clearly be re-animation to the extreme.)

  40. Niamh says:

    Hey Stan, I have a great photo of a billboard sign in Galway last summer. It says ‘Feck off rain’. Can I send it to you and, if you want, feel free to post it!
    Best wishes,
    (PS Can I email it to you?)

    • Stan says:

      That would be great, Niamh – thanks! It sounds like the controversial ad referred to in the ASAI link in the post (beside the ‘Feck it’ poster). You can email: stan [at] stancarey [dot] com.

  41. alexmccrae1546 says:


    That “Feck off rain” billboard message expressed a sentiment surely widely shared by many a Galwayan (?), but to see it basically splashed out in big-bold letters, in public view, no less, must have warranted a bit of a gobsmacked double-take?

    Here on this side of The Pond, I’m wondering how that particular message, pasted up on a roadside billboard, would go over in some of our more notoriously rainy climes, like the Pacific northwest states; where days-on-end of constant drizzle and depression-inducing grey gloom is often the rule, and hardly the exception. (Particularly in those typically dreary fall-thru-winter months.)

    (Do I sound like a cynical Southern Californian? Here, in LA LA Land, where, in the immortal words of The Mama and The Papas, “It never rains in sunny Southern California….”.
    They lied, folks! And for the record, technically, we actually DO have distinctive seasons—leaves turning and colorfully blanketing the ground in fall, rainy, wet winters—when El Niño decides to come to town; not just one perpetual, sun-shiny long-hot summer, 24/7, as many out-of-staters would lead us to believe. But what the feck!)

    Frankly, I think the word “feck” might be a bit of head-scratcher for many an American Nor-wester, where, unlike in your neck-of-the-woods (make that neck-of-the-fen HA!), it’s generally more commonly understood as a softer version of the more course, F-word.

    Yet the closeness in spelling and sound (when spoken) between “feck” and “f*ck”, would likely clue in most Yanks as to the intrinsic meaning of “feck”.

    I hope Stan does post your billboard pic, at some point.

    Thanks for sharing, Niamh.

  42. Niamh says:

    Hi all,
    Thanks a mill Philip. I wondered if it would make its way online somewhere.
    The symbolic two fingers to the rain from the icecream cone are especially worthy of ‘admiration’ in the ad!
    Have emailed my version to Stan as well.

  43. Stan says:

    There are several images of the ad online (search “feck off rain” on Google Images), but copyright issues dissuaded me from including one earlier. Thanks to Niamh, I’ve now added her photo to the post, along with a comment and a couple of other links.

  44. Niamh says:

    Thanks Stan for posting that. I do love this ad. and am very happy to share.

    @ Alex, I did an almighty double-take when I saw this on the side of the road; in fact, I almost crashed the car, to be honest! I couldn’t believe they got away with something like this. Also, the mind boggled because this is an ad. for boring ole paint. Clearly, they have creative genius behind their marketing campaigns.

    Re: acceptability: If summers in Ireland are anything to go by, I’m sure the sentiments expressed summed up the general mood at the time. Most people probably had a good giggle.

    All the best,

  45. alexmccrae1546 says:


    First off, not being a native Irishman, or Brit, for that matter, and never having come across the given name, “Niamh”, I had no clue that you were a fair lass, and not a bloke.

    In Stan’s last ‘reply’ post he mentions adding “her photo” (that would be your photo) as an update to his feck-themed article. Ah ha!… then I saw the light, as it were.

    Speaking of light, in checking out the origin of your charming name, Niamh, I discovered that it goes way back in the mists of time to early Irish folk lore, and has come down through the ages as connoting “radiance”, or “brightness”. I’m sure you exude both these admirable qualities.(If you had long, curly reddish tresses, that would be a sheer bonus. HA!)

    Interestingly, the anglicized versions of the Irish-rooted appellation “Niamh” are apparently Neve, Neeve, Nieve, and Neave. But I digress.

    Niamh, the fact that this bill board ad is for a paint company is kind of puzzling, and further, the image of the ice-cream cone w/ the twin embedded chocolate flake V-for-Victory sticks doesn’t appear to jibe w/ the rather salty copy. (Perhaps just a singular ‘stick’ would have worked better, signifying the universally known rude, extended middle-finger gesture. (Just a thought.)

    I suppose if the poster had read, almost immediately, that it was, indeed, an advert for house paint, then I could see where the line “Feck the rain” could be an appropriate sentiment, since persistent “rain” is the natural bane of (exterior) house painters.

    And eating ice cream in a heavy drizzle can be a bit of a fizzle, if you get my drift. But then gain, it isn’t an ad promoting ice cream. Oh well.

    At any rate, putting up this edgy bill board was a pretty bold PR move. But frankly I don’t believe it really could have appreciably spiked paint sales. Just sayin. (Maybe ice cream sales, though?)

  46. […] blends the computational way. Stan Carey put on a sock puppet show, and on his own blog, explored meanings and origins of feck and shared some animated etymology. Johnson told us about the best word ever and place names as […]

  47. gaiamethod says:

    When I was a child growing ujp in Graiguenamanagh (Co. Kilkenny) we had a horse which my father bought from the ‘tinkers. He named him ‘Feck-Actor’. It always felt like he named the horse in defiance of his overly-controlling family!!!!
    Great article. I love words and their meaning! Now that I am living in Egypt I am finding that many common expressions, for the Irish and the English, have absolutely no translated meaning whatsoever to Arabic speakers and trying to explain what something means is nearly impossible, as it seems to mean nothing at all.
    On the other hand, many other expressions I use without thinking about them suddenly become really clear and I have that ‘Oh that’s what that means’ moment. Wonderful!

  48. Stan says:

    gaiamethod: Thanks for your visit; I’m glad the post was of interest. I wonder did the name “Feck-Actor” come from feck-acting, as in jig-acting.
    It can be tricky sometimes to explain an expression without a parallel in another language. Examples of their use can help, but only up to a point, so embedded are they in their native context.

  49. […] out to him the whole time: ‘I’ve hated you for years, you old fecker, so take this.’ (Anne Emery, Obit: A […]

  50. […] steal’ is one of several meanings of the word feck in Ireland. I’m not sure what Ó Faoláin’s intent was in making Dick unaware of it: maybe the usage was […]

  51. […] to Stan Carey of Sentence first, “Feck and [the "F" word] do not overlap entirely. Feck is family-friendly, even […]

  52. […] Mrs Doyle from Father Ted would also disapprove, although she points out the distinction between “the F word” and the much less offensive ”feck” (commonly used in Ireland). […]

  53. […] last week he fecked some Mars bars from Howard’s.” The most authoritative treatment of feck is to be found on my old friend, Stan Carey’s, language blog. […]

  54. translatorkl says:

    Being inspired by this song: and to be more precise by the phrases such as “to walk the fecking dog” and “whatever the feck it’s called” I found your blog. Thank you so very much for giving us a chance to acquaint ourselves with so educational and informative article.

    • Stan says:

      You’re very welcome, and thank you for visiting and subscribing. I hope you found the post helpful. In both of those lyrics feck(ing) is functioning as a mild expletive.

  55. […] modifiers of eejit include big, awful, feckin’, fuckin’, and oul’ (also ould, aul’, auld). Its jocular flavour made it a frequent favourite […]

  56. […] the words feck and shite. Feck is a minced oath whose uses, meanings and origins I’ve explored on my own language blog, Sentence first. Shite is a slightly coarser swear, more at home here on Strong Language […]

  57. […] Feck – Irish swear word, though it IS considered family friendly. It’s not as strong a word as its similar 4-lettered cousin. […]

  58. Unanamous says:

    Feck is also a last name

  59. cdstclair says:

    My new favorite word. Fecking awesome.

  60. mikeladano says:

    And now I know. Very happy! #feck

  61. […] Feck has various meanings – including, as a verb, ‘to steal’ and ‘to throw’. But it’s best […]

  62. […] “Feck” is a long-standing favorite quasi-curse of mine; more so now that I know its canonical meanings include “throw/toss”—which is often an appropriate description of what […]

  63. […] (Father Jack makes liberal use of the Irish minced oath feck in that clip; I wrote about its use and origins here.) […]

  64. […] local phrases (like “go ask me bollix” and “I was scarlet”), and also thankfully explained why “feck” (a replacement for f*ck) was technically not a curse word and therefore could be plastered on […]

  65. Des murphy says:

    Fek u ! Love Erin xxxxxx

  66. […] to “frick” (or my favorite, the Irish “feck“, although that one seems to be a bit more complex) or using the word “crap” instead of […]

  67. […] or energy” in the 1490s. This has no relation to the Irish feck, a minced oath for fuck, as Stan Carey explains and which Terrence Patrick Dolan’s Hiberno-English dictionary first records in […]

  68. […] feck, as a minced oath (you will want to read this 3 amounts to what the ultrablue might argue is cultural appropriation (as you no doubt understand […]

  69. […] Okay, three branches of government… who’s going to keep check? America the beautiful, please don’t settle for feck. […]

  70. John the Mad says:

    Surely Feck in all its spellings and connotations is both a Contraction and Simplification of the Irish Equivalent of “Jesus Mary and Joseph” or “”All the Saints” or “By the Heavens Above”
    Or what ever you can imagine your Granny saying in front of the Bishop.
    Much the same as the French “Sacre Bleu” (or correctly written in French as “Sacrebleu”)
    doesn’t imply that our Gallic neighbors worship Colours. simply meaning “Sacred Blue” it invokes the intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is invariably depicted in Light Blue clothes. Also it avoids using “Dieu” as in “Mon Dieu” which is My God, yet Dieu rhymes with Dieu. The medieval French weren’t about to go around Blaspheming, aka “Jehovah” and the Stoning Incident in Monty Python’s, Life of Brian.
    It swears without swearing, same as “Feck.”
    It is a contraction of invoking Saint Feck.
    Also spelt Fechin, or Feichin who was also known as Mo-Ecca who died in 665AD.
    His name means Little Raven from the Old Irish “Fiach” and the accompanying diminutive suffix.
    He gave his name to the village of Termonfeckin in Louth and Ecclefechan in Scotland.
    Forgiving my improper use of the accent and other funny language squiggles not available on me keyboard.
    As we Irish have been using it for 800 yrs before the word “Fuck” was invented appreciate that language mutates and meanders in it’s meanings and uses and that we not about to stop using it no matter what the english think it means.
    A bit like they don’t see the Irony in using Welsh to describe people from what they call Wales. As it means Foreigners, it can only apply to the english in Cymru (what the english keep forgetting to call that part of the UK they keep referring to incorrectly as Wales.)
    A bit like insisting on calling Bejing, Peking.
    Or Sri Lanka, Ceylon.
    Feck Ah Ma-hoo, as Irish for See Ya sounds like in english.

    • Stan Carey says:

      …using Welsh to describe people from what they call Wales. As it means Foreigners, it can only apply to the english in Cymru (what the english keep forgetting to call that part of the UK they keep referring to incorrectly as Wales.)

      This is an example of the etymological fallacy.

  71. Edward Barrett says:

    In Liverpool, the equivalent of the ‘Glasgow handshake’ is the ‘Kirkby kiss’.

    And mentions of ‘heck’ brought this character from Scott Adams’ Dilbert comic strip:

  72. […] popular in Britain by Father Ted. Often assumed to be the less offensive version of that other F word, the one you can’t say in front of the posh relations, but feck it if it isn’t way more complicated than that. Linguist Stan Carey explains. […]

  73. Edward Barrett says:

    Hi, Stan.

    I hope all’s well.

    I’m happily re-visiting this post, after a question popped into my head – perhaps one you can help with.

    Is there an Irish usage ‘feck up’, meaning ‘shut up’? Perhaps via ‘Shut the feck / fuck up’ . . .

    Or have I imagined it?

    • Stan Carey says:

      Hi Edward. Feck up as a standalone idiom meaning “shut up” is rare, if it occurs at all. Feck up generally is semantically identical to fuck up in the sense “make a mess of”. If you search for “feck up” or “fecked up” on Boards dot ie, you’ll find lots of examples, including feck up as a noun phrase (which I would hyphenate).

      “Shut the feck up” is certainly used, in contexts where someone would ordinarily say “Shut the fuck up” but wants to be less offensive. Father Jack in Father Ted gave it welly:

  74. […] While I was in the parish, I popped over for a discreet look at Glanquin Farmhouse, better known as the parochial house in Father Ted. Fans of the sitcom might enjoy my old post on the uses and origins of feck. […]

  75. […] on that most Irish of swears, feck(ing). As Strong Language’s Irish correspondent Stan Carey explains in a 2012 post on his blog, “Feck is a popular minced oath in Ireland, occupying ground […]

  76. […] regularly enough to make it a catchphrase. “’Feck’ is family-friendly, “ Carey wrote on his blog, “even according to advertising standards authorities…. As expletives go, it has a playful, […]

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