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I came across "factitious" in this quoted sentence:

One can, however, come up with a factitious principle to underwrite the latter argument.

It seems to me that one could equally well have used fictitious instead. So are they perfectly synonymous or are there circumstances where you would use one rather than the other?

  • 2
    The way I like to think of it: factitious => contrived, fictitious => imagined. – Ben Lee Dec 6 '13 at 19:50
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The second is much more in everyday use, and it means something imaginary or fabricated. 'Factitious' which is far less frequently used refers to something artificially created, though this can be something inanimate. The example the ODE gives is of 'a factitious national identity'.

In the novel 'Billy Liar' by Keith Waterhouse, the eponymous hero has more than a fertile imagination and lives in his own world of fantasy in which he is variously playing football for England, and President of the imagined nation of Ambrosia. All this is 'fictitious'.

In the nineteenth century many nations attempted to rewrite their own histories to create a stronger sense of national identity. Many icons of history are not historical at all (See Eric Hobsbawn 'The invention of tradition' (1983)). This was 'factitious'.

Factitious is derived from the Latin facere, 'do, make' Fictitious is from the latin ficticius 'contrive, form' (Oxford Dictionary of English)

This was a very good question and merits a +1.

2

Factitious derives from factus and therefore facere meaning to do or to make and therefore something done and based on fact.

Fictitious derives from fictus and therefore fingere meaning to shape (or devise) and therefore something feigned.

  • You seem to be suggesting that factitious is an antonym for fictitious? – Kenny LJ Nov 30 '13 at 14:50
  • In a manner of speaking yes. But since the two words are used in different contexts they cannot be considered antonyms. The point I wanted to underscore in my answer was that fact and factitious share their etymologic origins - and one should not employ factitious when they want to convey the sense of forgery and deceit. In the context used in your book the word is appropriate and simply means non-natural. – user49727 Dec 1 '13 at 13:38
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    I think this answer is wrong. Factitious also means something made up, not factual. – Ali Apr 12 '15 at 12:17
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Something about the alleged distinction offered here sounds more like an academic attempt to sound erudite rather to than explain a true difference. Yes the etymologies may be different, but "contrived," "fictitious," "imagined," "fabricated," all convey a sense of "not being in accord with reality," and so to try to describe situations where one might be more suitable that the other seems factitious . . . or . . . umm . . . fictitious.

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