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I received an e-mail including the following sentence:

I am not asking for a facetious grade change, just one that would allow me to pass.

What the writer means is that the request isn't frivolous or petty. This use sounds wrong to me, but the literal dictionary definition doesn't contradict it (the dictionary definition includes, for instance "flippant").

My question is whether this is a use typical in some situation or dialect I'm not familiar with, or if it's actually completely nonstandard.

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It seems that if the student meant it that way, it would have been written I am not facetiously asking for a grade change, I really need to pass. . . –  Callithumpian Jun 14 '11 at 0:35
Is it possible the writer meant factitious, misspelled it, and then unknowingly chose the wrong option from email spellcheck? –  Callithumpian Jun 14 '11 at 2:26
Frankly, I think this student is unfamiliar with the meaning of facetious. It's a poor choice here. The best word I can think of that fits the intended meaning is preposterous. –  ghoppe Jun 14 '11 at 18:13
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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humour; flippant

Most frequent usage follows patterns like being facetious

I'm not trying to be facetious.

or sounding facetious

Well, Mr. Simon, I want to ask you a question which may sound facetious, but I'm dead serious.

You could make a facetious remark or ask a facetious question but it just doesn't make sense to me that changing someone's grade could be flippantly humorous. I can't detect any humour there at all, so I'm giving this the thumbs down.

If it were phrased like this I think it would make more sense:

I hope you don't think my request for a grade change is facetious. I am quite serious.

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This clarifies my problem with the student's use: I understand facetious as implying that there's some humor, or at least humorous intent, involved. (The dictionary definition doesn't seem to require it, but dictionaries don't always capture the full nuance of when a word gets used.) –  Henry Jun 14 '11 at 0:47
Facetious doesn't necessarily imply humor as in "ha ha that's funny"; it could instead be a form of sarcasm. But I agree, it's the wrong word for this sentence. –  Marthaª Jun 14 '11 at 15:15
This is good analysis, but the second half of the student's sentence just one that would allow me to pass implies that it's not the request that they are trying to qualify with the word facetious, but rather the appropriateness of the change — which of course makes facetious the wrong word to use. I think the better rephrasing would be something like "I am not asking for a (ludicrous|preposterous|ridiculous|excessive|extravagant) grade change, just one that would allow me to pass." –  ghoppe Jun 14 '11 at 18:48
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I find this usage odd. It is normally used with a manner or remark, or with humour: facetious humour is light and playful; a facetious remark is mildly humorous; a facetious person is prone to facetious humour or remarks. Most of the time, I see it used in a negative sense in modern usage: a facetious person often isn't serious enough. In that sense in can be quite close to frivolous:

The play was full of facetious dialogues that lacked depth.

In your example, neither facetious nor frivolous would seem appropriate: why would a change of grade be jocular or light? Perhaps a bit more context would clarify things.

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The student means that a request to change a grade from, say, a B to a B+ would be frivolous, whereas the change being requested is the same raw amount of change, but has much greater impact for the student. –  Henry Jun 14 '11 at 0:43
@Henry: Facetious is simply misused here. A grade change is highly unlikely to be facetious. Someone might make a facetious request for a grade change, but frivolous is a better word even there — and it still would need to modify request, not grade change. –  Robusto Jun 14 '11 at 1:09
@Robusto: I agree. A change cannot be frivolous or facetious, but a manner or request can. –  Cerberus Jun 14 '11 at 1:28
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In the construction used, "not an (X) change, just a (Y) one", X and Y are generally points along a single scale, and X is farther out on the scale than Y. I can think of no way that "facetious" and "just allows me to pass" could be placed on the same scale, so I have to agree with the people who say that this usage is improper.

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+1, I was about to write something along these lines. I think that the student should be quoted more fully: "just allows me to pass". I think "just" is very important here as it implies some relationship between the two attributes (but there are none, as you say). –  Unreason Jun 14 '11 at 8:07
"just one that allows me to pass" is very differemt from "one that just allows me to pass". –  TimLymington May 25 '12 at 22:13
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One definition of "facetious" is " not meant to be taken seriously or literally", or 'ridiculous', so the usage of 'facetious' is not dialectical, or non-standard. the sentence here means:

I am not asking for a ridiculously drastic grade change, just one that would get me passed.

Such usage of words, although not common, is not necessarily non-standard. It may just be unique, or archaic. For example, the word 'discover', can be used to mean 'to find out' as in:

He discovered that John had two covers.

or it could mean, 'to reveal'

John discovered to him that he had two cars.

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Well, yes, I know what the word means in context, and that it fits the dictionary definition. It's just very, very far from the way I've seen it actually used. For instance, the student clearly does mean this request to be taken literally. –  Henry Jun 14 '11 at 0:16
You've inserted the word "drastic" in the explanation, although it is not a meaning of "facetious". Take that out, and the sentence is still just as problematic as before (correct grammar, poor word choice). –  Ben Voigt Jun 14 '11 at 1:15
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Your student was asking you to adjust her grade just enough so she passes, not so much that her grade is way out of line. Adjusting a D+ to a C- is a reasonable request, Adjusting a D+ to an A+ would be a facetious request.

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This suggests that you agree with the student's use (and presumably disagree with the responders who don't agree with the use). First, are you saying that the act of adjusting (as opposed to the request for the adjustment) is the thing that can be facetious? And second, can you find any other examples of this use of the word? I, and some of the people who responded, don't recognize it as being in the scope of the meaning, so what I'd really like are some other examples of this. –  Henry Jun 14 '11 at 2:02
I'm suggesting that that the student may have used the word correctly. The amount of the adjustment is what would constitute a facetious request. A small grade adjustment might be a reasonable request, a request for an adjustment to an undeserved grade (such as an A+) would be facetious. This would work better the other way, such as -- Student (reasonably): "Can you give me a barely passing grade?" Teacher (facetiously): "Why don't I just give you an A+ instead?" –  Jay Elston Jun 14 '11 at 2:36
I agree that the teacher's unserious offer of an A+ could be described as facetious, but I'm suspicious that a student's unreasonable but heartfelt request for a higher grade can be accurately described that way. Have you seen any other examples of this use, where facetious only means unreasonable, without an implication of attempted humor? –  Henry Jun 14 '11 at 2:46
Facetious requests do not need to be related to humor, they can imply a lack of seriousness as well. A student who may be at the border of passing and failing would be frivolous to ask for an A+, but could ask for a C- with a straight face. To me, the sentence structure of the student's request is a bit off -- facetious should apply to the action the student takes (asking for the change) rather than the action the teacher takes (making the change). –  Jay Elston Jun 14 '11 at 3:10
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