The origin of the word “feck” arose following mention of P.G. Wodehouse’s skilled use of back-formations in last week’s column. A back-formation occurs when a shorter word is made out of a longer one, like when one of Wodehouse’s characters “may not be entirely disgruntled, but he was far from gruntled.” Having been culpable of occasional fecklessness over the years, I’ve often wondered how to acquire feck, and what it is. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it became popular around 1500 to combine the Scots’ “feck,” which was a back-formation of “effect,” with “less” to make “feckless” and mean “lacking purpose or vitality, careless and irresponsible.” The modern usage of feck is “an informal Irish euphemism” for a similar naughty word according to the Dublin Slang Dictionary.
Greg Hill’s Weekly Column
Novelist Stephen King says this to those wanting to be writers: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time, or tools, to write. Simple as that.” Reading widely and well is required: reading great books deeply and with focus, not just cereal boxes. And reading screens doesn’t count. “The Case for Preserving the Pleasure of Deep Reading,” an online article, notes that “deep reading of books and the information-driven reading we do on the web are very different, both in the experience they produce and the capacities they develop. A growing body of evidence suggests that online reading may be less engaging and satisfying, even for ‘digital natives.’”
Our local Osher Life-Long Learning Institute is a joy. Learning for its own sake’s a rich experience, and skipping class and improving upon the teacher’s insights with impunity are marvelous bonuses. Those enrolled in OLLI’s Mastering Wine 101 course are particularly diligent scholars, and instructor Kathy Lavelle, a certified wine professional, receives little sass from her enthralled class. It’s a jolly gathering anyway, but some of the oenological vocabulary introduced recently inspired added mirth. “Degorging” engendered wild mental imagery until Kathy explained that this is a vintner’s process of removing sediment from aging champagne by chilling the upturned bottles until the sediment congeals. Internal pressure shoots it out of the bottle when the cap’s removed, and the bottle’s then topped up and re-corked.
One thing that really sets hard-boiled detective writer Raymond Chandler apart is his attention to details and quick, precise descriptions of people and places. These observations litter his novels without ever seeming to me to disrupt the narrative. In “The Little Sister,” for example, the protagonist Philip Marlowe “stopped across the street from a square building of two stories of rose-red brick with small white leaded bay windows and a Greek porch over the front door and what looked, from across the street, like an antique pewter doorknob.” Moreover, the owner’s name appeared “in black wooden letters severely stylized.”
“Generous” and “thoughtful” were labels that came to mind when I received a book in the mail titled “Labels for Locals: What to Call People from Abilene to Zimbabwe” and read the enclosed card from author Paul Dickson that mentioned his enjoying my columns and making a gift of his informative book.