The Joy of Fecks

One of the things I’ve noticed in the time I’ve spent in the Dublin area recently is that Irish people tend to swear a lot, and I mean a lot. On the other hand, the combination of an Irish accent and the imaginative way in which expletives are used makes this habit colourful rather than offensive.

Something I have discovered only relatively recently concerns the word `feck’ (as used frequently by Father Jack in the comedy documentary series Father Ted). I’ve always assumed that this word was simply an alternative form for the word `fuck’ and as such was an extremely offensive swear word. I have used it frequently in the Irish vernacular phrase “feckin’ eejit” (usually in the context of a British politician) assuming that it had that meaning.

However, I am reliably informed by Irish colleagues and Wikipedia – although I’m not sure whether either of those sources really counts as reliable – that `feck’ isn’t really the same as `fuck’ because it derives from a different root, and although it is an oath it is far less offensive. In fact, `feck’ is a word which is also in use in Scotland meaning force or value, from which we get the word `feckless’ meaning worthless, or something like `a large amount or quantity’.

In modern Irish slang, `feck’ can be used as a `minced oath’ (i.e as a euphemism for `fuck’, as one might say `eff off’ instead of `fuck off’) but it has a variety of other meanings, including `to steal’ or `to throw’. None of these other meanings relate directly to sexual intercourse. In summary, then, it seems that while `feck’ is undoubtedly rather vulgar, it is far less offensive than `the bad F-word’, i.e. `fuck’.

I hope this doesn’t give the impression that my opening statement – that Irish people swear a lot – is false. ‘The bad F-word’ is definitely in widespread use. All I’m saying is that `feck’ (a) isn’t the same word and (b) it’s not as offensive as you might have thought.

Here’s an explanation by the inestimable Mrs Doyle from Father Ted in which she discusses these issues in the context of modern Irish literature.

Now I think I’ll feck off home.

One Response to “The Joy of Fecks”

  1. I used to have a great t-shirt that said ‘FCEK….The Irish Connection’

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