by Steven Steinbock
As with last week’s column, I’ve written this Bandersnatch dispatch long in advance of publication. Last week I was preoccupied with Sam’s Bar Mitzvah. No sooner had the last guests been sent on their way, I packed myself off to the Edgars. (The preceding sentences was written before any of the guests had even arrived; I feel like a character in “FlashForward”).
Two days ago (or ten days in the future, as I write this) I will have presided at the International Association of Crime Writers
board meeting. Yesterday I will be accepting an honorary doctorate from my graduate school, also in New York. That night (Thursday, April 29, which if all goes right should be yesterday) I’ll be going to the Edgar Awards Banquet. This morning, I’ll be hopping a trail to Washington, DC and then hopping over to Arlington, in the shadow of the Pentagon, where I’ll be attending Malice Domestic.
At Malice, I’ll be sitting on two panels: the first, at 4:10 this afternoon, I’ll be sitting with Doug Greene, Margaret Maron, Mary Higgins Clark, and Janet Hutchings for a session titled Ed Hoch Remembered: Honoring One of the Most Prolific Writers of Short Detective Fiction. Later in the weekend I’ll be sitting on a Sherlock Holmes panel along with John Betancourt, Parnell Hall, William Link, and Daniel Stashower.
If any Criminal Brief friends, fans, or followers happen to be at any of these events, be sure to say hi.
Feckless Facts and Indefatigable Mirth
As I’ve been promising for several weeks, I will now share my thoughts on the word Feckless, as well as the relationship (or lack thereof) between Ninny and Nincompoop. Next week, I promise, I’ll be back with Wistful, Mirth, Laconic, and Languid.
Starting with the last, according to dictionaries (American Heritage online, Random House online, and others), ninny and nincompoop both mean “a fool or simpleton. So you’d think that they shared a common ancestry. Ninny is pretty easy to trace. It is a shortened form of the adjective “innocent” as well as being the pet form of proper name “Innocent.”
Nincompoop is more complicated. Some have suggested that it’s a goofy form of the name “Nicodemus” which in French slang once meant “a fool.” While modern etymologists (including the OED) don’t buy it, I like Samuel Johnson’s 1755 explanation, that it is a goofy form of the legal phrase non compos mentis (meaning “mentally incompetent”).
Moving on, we come to a series of words for which I have always had a difficult time understanding, either because the definition doesn’t match the sound (in an onomatopoeic sense) of the word, or because it’s just a strange word. First is feckless, which is odd for two reasons: 1) because it obviously means lacking feck even though no one knows what the heck feck means, and 2) because it closely resembles a Saxon-based obscenity. Feck, for all the ninnies and nincompoops out there (including me) is a Scottish form of effect, meant in the sense of value or vigor. So there you have it, folks. Feckless means lacking drive, direction, or purpose.
Perhaps a good antonym to feckless is tenacious, which I don’t find to be a problematic word like the others I’ve mentioned. But it’s a fun word to say, so let’s have at it. Tenacious means “stick-to-it-ness” in both a figurative and literal sense. The root is the Latin is tenax, which I think of as a gluey, sticky verb, and is the source of the modern Spanish verb is tener (“to have”). It’s similar in meaning, although not in origin, to that tireless term indefatigable, which I never seem to spell or pronounce correctly.
And so, until next week, I am indefatigably yours,
Your humble nincompoop.