What’s the origin of the word feeble?

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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: feeble…

A recent, thoroughly engaging piece in the New Yorker, “Go Ask Alice,” explores the story of Alice in Wonderland — “as familiar as a household god and as remote as a child star” — and her creator Charles Dodgson (pictured above), better known as Lewis Carroll.

Written by Anthony Lane, who is one of the magazine’s two film critics, the piece displays superb writing, erudite analysis and a fine sense of humour. It also gave me my word of the week, feeble. Here is how Lane used it:

Then, there was the aftermath: the Wonderland craze, which spawned feeble ripoffs and unsolicited sequels, as well as theatrical adaptations (which prompted Carroll to compose an overwrought essay on “‘Alice’ and the Stage”) and enamelled biscuit tins, to which, surprisingly, he gave his blessing.

Of course I know that feeble means something that lacks physical strength, especially as a result of age or illness. But I didn’t know the origin of the word. A quick check of my etymological dictionary reveals that it’s from the Old French, feble, meaning “weak.” In turn, this came from the Latin flebilis meaning “that is to be wept over.” The first L was apparently lost in Old French.

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