Friday, May 6, 2011

Today's Word: factitious

I had intended to complete and publish a bit of flash fiction today about how I think the first test of a time machine might go. But responsibilities and distractions piled up, and I haven't finished it yet. (Watch for it next week!)

So instead, I bring you a word I wish I had known 20 years ago: factitious.

If you notice that fiction and fact are opposites, you might come to the conclusion that fictitious and factitious are also opposites, thus making factitious an overlong synonym of factual. It's a perfectly reasonable and logical conclusion to draw, but it's wrong.

If something is factitious, it is unauthentic, artificial, a sham. Rush Limbaugh's recent "praise" of President Obama after the death of bin Laden, for example, was factitious praise — it wasn't actual praise. Factitiousness often goes hand-in-hand with sarcasm, and scare quotes like the ones used earlier in this paragraph are a sign that you might be dealing with something factitious.

It's not always about sarcasm, though. Laugh tracks and applause reels are factitious responses added to some TV shows that either don't have a live audience or just aren't very good. I bet North Korean sitcoms use them a lot.

I could make plenty of jokes about how the GOP, the TEA party, FOX news, et al. can always be relied on for factitious information, but I'll leave that to my more hilarious, less reserved readers.