I spent a few minutes reading some of the comments over on Jalopnik from the article about a young mother who was killed by a pair of street racers. Her baby, who she was pushing in a stroller, was critically injured. The comments go about as you might expect, but I have a thought that I’d like to share with a more thoughtful group of people.

The very first comment questions why the mother was walking with her baby near a busy street. I’m not going to go into any discussion about whether this comment was victim blaming or simply rhetorical (though I do have an opinion on that). Others said things along the lines of, “Well, if she were jaywalking” —which she wasn’t — “then she deserves part of the blame.” Okay, I suppose that’s arguable. But let me ask a rhetorical question of my own: If you are driving down the street, and you see somebody jaywalking, do you say, “They’re jaywalking. Screw ‘em,” and then run them over?

No. You, as a functioning member of society with a modicum of concern for a fellow human being, stop. Or at least slow down. You might honk, or shake a fist (or a finger). You might even try to get as close as you can to them without hitting them. But you don’t simply mow them down because you have the right of way.

That’s because you have reck. You are not reckless. And indeed, the drivers and passenger in this tragedy were all charged with, among other things, reckless driving resulting in serious bodily injury. But what does “reckless” really mean? Let’s take a look at the etymology of the word.

Reckless (adj.) Old English receleas “careless, thoughtless, heedless,” earlier reccileas, from *rece, recce “care, heed,” from reccan “to care” (see reck (v.)) + -less. The same affixed form is in German ruchlos, Dutch roekeloos “wicked.” Root verb reck (Old English reccan) is passing into obscurity.

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Reckless is a very old word. You can find it as far back as Shakespeare,

So flies the reckless shepherd from the wolf;
So first the harmless sheep doth yield his fleece
And next his throat unto the butcher’s knife. (Hamlet)

Here, the shepherd cares not for the sheep, and would rather save himself than tend to his charges, who cannot protect themselves.

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So, reckless driving doesn’t mean just being crazy behind the wheel. It means being careless, thoughtless, heedless of others, of humanity. Without reck. So, it doesn’t matter one fig whether that young mother was jaywalking or not. It doesn’t matter if she chose to walk her baby near a busy road. The young men who killed her cared not at all for the lives of anybody other than themselves.