During the vice presidential debate held on Tuesday night, Indiana governor Mike Pence repeatedly critiqued his opponent, Virginia senator Tim Kaine, for tossing out “pre-done lines.” But Pence, Donald Trump’s running mate, had his own pet phrases he returned to again and again to attack his opponent’s running mate, Hillary Clinton.
For one thing, he couldn’t seem to stop calling her and President Obama’s leadership “weak and feckless” ― three times, in total, a significant number of times to use such a distinct phrase.
The quiet buzz that arose from inhabited areas across the country was debate watchers rushing, en masse, to tap “feckless” into Google. Merriam-Webster posted a blog Tuesday night noting that lookups of the word “spiked dramatically” on their site after Pence used it on the debate stage.
A day later, “feckless” remains No. 2 on the site’s “trending now” feature ― which is, by the way, always a great snapshot of what’s going on in the campaign; other trending terms now include “stamina” and “bigly/big league.” Meghan Lunghi, the company’s director of marketing, told HuffPost via email that lookups for the term were up 962 percent at the time of writing.
So what does “feckless” mean?
Most of us don’t use the word in our day-to-day lives, though we might run across it in a moralistic 18th-century novel or, as Merriam-Webster points out, in recent political speech: “Both Senator John McCain and Governor Chris Christie, among others, have used the word in highly publicized speeches or debates.”
Primarily, Merriam-Webster defines it as “having or resulting from a weak character or nature,” but, the blog points out, it’s also been used to mean plenty of other disparaging things ― lazy, irresponsible, worthless. “If someone calls you feckless, there is very little chance that you are being complimented,” the dictionary concludes.
Basically, we all know that to be “feckless” is bad, but beyond that, we couldn’t tell you exactly what it means. Chances are that effect worked just fine for Pence.