What does ‘cack-handed’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: cack-handed…

I get a great deal of pleasure — and useful information — from my online subscription to the New York Times. Installed, as it is, on my cell phone, it allows me to scroll through the site while standing in one of those irritating bank lineups or while waiting for a meeting to start. An April 19/17 story on the election called by British prime minister Theresa May recently caught my eye. Headlined “The Foregone Conclusion of Britain’s Election” and written by Kenan Malik, the story also gave me my word of the week: cack-handed.

Here is how Malik used it:

There is certainly widespread disaffection with the Conservative government’s policies, from its cack-handed approach to Brexit negotiations to resentment over continuing cuts in public spending.

I had no idea what the term meant, or its origins so I had to go to an online dictionary to learn. Turns out it is UK slang and it means someone who often drops or breaks things or does things badly. In the terrific World Wide Words website, assembled by Michael Quinion, I learned even more. Here is what that site reports:

The direct association is with cack, another fine Old English term, for excrement or dung. Cachus was Old English for a privy, and both words come from Latin cacare, to defecate. It almost certainly comes from the very ancient tradition, which has developed among peoples who were mainly right-handed, that one reserved the left hand for cleaning oneself after defecating and used the right hand for all other purposes. 

Read all of that site’s fascinating entry on the word cack-handed, here.

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