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In this stanza from Edmund Spenser's 'Faerie Queene', I'm not sure what 'I no whitt reck' means, would appreciate any clarification.

‘O! but I feare the fickle freakes,’ quoth shee,
‘Of Fortune false, and oddes of armes in field.’
‘Why, dame,’ quoth he, ‘what oddes can ever bee,
Where both doe fight alike, to win or yield?’
‘Yea, but,’ quoth she, ‘he beares a charmed shield,
And eke enchaunted armes, that none can perce,
Ne none can wound the man, that does them wield.’
‘Charmd or enchaunted,’ answerd he then ferce,
I no whitt reck, ne you the like need to reherce.

  • 1
    Whit is merely an old spelling of whit, and reck may be found in any dictionary; it's little used now, but it's the base of reckless. – StoneyB Dec 5 '16 at 15:00
  • 4
    I believe the modern translation would be "I have zero fucks to give". – Dan Bron Dec 5 '16 at 15:16
  • You can probably find an annotated version of Faerie Queene. – Alan Carmack Dec 5 '16 at 16:11
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The key to understanding the sentence indicated:

I no whitt reck

lies in understanding how way back in olden days, it was in English then common to use SOV (subject–object–verb) ordering, much as one might even today in Dutch or German, where today we would use SVO ordering.

Consider:

  • With this Ring I thee wed (I wed thee)
  • Till Death us do part (till Death should part us)

That’s putting the object before the verb but after the subject. It’s weird to our modern ear. That’s why it looks funny, because even though OSV we do still see when the occasion calls for it, SOV is rather less common.

Once the grammatical relations are worked out, it becomes a mere matter of recognizing older spellings and obsolete usages of words known even today.

As StoneyB indicated, whitt is an old spelling of whit (think of a little bit), and reck should be locatable in any dictionary worthy of that name.

An interesting note can be found at Oxford Online, who report that the verb reck is now archaic but “became common in rhetorical and poetic language in the 19th century”.¹ It’s about paying attention to something, and is related to reckless. So reckless driving² should mean the same sort of thing as careless driving, even though those are usually distinct citations.

So here are progressive modernizations that should lead you to the intended sense:

  • I no whitt reck.
  • I reck no whitt.
  • I reck not a whitt.
  • I don’t care a bit.
  • I don’t give a damn.

Other formulations are certainly possible, as Dan Bron has suggested.


Footnotes

  1. Spenser published The Faerie Queen towards the end of the 16th century, though, so going on three centuries previous to reck’s resurrection by 19th century poets. I blame Sir Walter Scott.:)

  2. Not to be confused with wreck-less driving.

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