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TWTS: Will the reckless ever become "reckful?"


We can be fined for "reckless" driving. So why aren’t we praised for "reckful" driving?

Our listener, Andrew Conkling, recently pointed out to us the confusing nature of “reckless”:

"I was describing the word to my 6-year-old yesterday as he was demonstrating the definition and realized it’s a hard word to parse. There is no 'reckful,' there isn’t a 'reck.' How did we get settled with just that form?"



This question is similar to others we've covered in the past, including "ruthless" and "feckless."

Conkling is right. Like "ruthless," "reckless" doesn't have a "ful" counterpart like "feckless" does. However, there is a "reck" in our language.

It's most likely that "reckless" goes back to the verb form of "reck." As a verb, "reck" meant to take care, to take notice, to take heed. Therefore, if you're "reckless," you're not taking care.

The verb "reck" shows up early in English. Shakespeare used it a lot, including in this quote from "As You Like It": "My master is of churlish disposition and little recks to find the way to heaven." In other words, the master doesn't care about finding the way to heaven.

The Oxford English Dictionary offers this more recent example from 1954: "They can preach holy war, and that is ever the most deadly kind, for it recks nothing of consequences." We may not use "reck" very often, but it is out there.

On the other hand, "reckless" is still commonly used to describe someone or something that is indifferent to consequences, rash, heedless, etc. It tends to occur alongside "driving," "endangerment," "behavior," disregard," and "abandon." 

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of Weekend Edition at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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