This is actually a repost of a word from 6 years ago, but my daughter asked me about it last week, so it seemed a fine time for a revisit. 😁
Reckless is one of those that always confused me as a kid. I mean, why was it reckLESS when you were indicating that people were apt to wreck?
Of course, I knew there was that missing “w”…but still. For years it made me shake my head, and I rated it up there with “inflammable = flammable.” (Yeah, just try puzzling that one out without the help of the etymology! LOL.)
As it turns out, it is indeed mere coincidence that reck and wreck are homonyms and carry meanings that can be so opposite. Reck is from a very old Germanic word that means “care, heed.” So since the days of Old English, reckless (or its original receleas) has meant “without care or heed.”
Wreck, on the other hand, is from the Old Norse wrek, which for centuries had ONLY ship-wreck meaning–flotsam, that which washed up after a ship went to pieces. It wasn’t until the 1700s that “wreck” was applied to any remains of a thing ruined. As a verb, it has carried the meaning of “ruin or destroy” since the 1500s.
So there we have it. Two totally different roots that happen to end up with identical sounds in modern English. Solely to confuse school children across the English-speaking world, I’m sure. 😉
Roseanna, I must thank you. Because of following your blog for years, when I began copyediting, I used etymonline as one of my resources for the age and origin of words, also using it in my own writing. I really appreciate your highlighting etymology for such a lengthy amount of time. You've really made an impact in my book-related careers. Thank you!