[Sic] transit and other matters
The Abbeville Manual of Style blog at Abbeville Press continues its mock guerrilla war with The Chicago Manual of Style, this time over the use of [sic] to indicate that an error in the text was there originally, not inserted by the writer or editor quoting the text.
While its use may be indispensable in formal academic writing, where concern about texts is obsessive, You Don’t Say sides with Abbeville in suggesting that you should avoid it elsewhere, because it always looks snotty. What “[sic]” says to the reader is something like “I will condescend to quote this grotty little wretch, but I will also take the trouble to point the finger at all the shabby marks of his inadequate education so that you can share in my contempt for him and sense of superiority about myself.”
That is why at The Baltimore Sun we do not insert [sic] into direct quotation of speakers or texts. If they are wrong and you notice it, you can enjoy your sense of superiority quietly and privately, as one ought.
On to other things.
The apostrophe brouhaha
The Greeks gave us the apostrophe, and we have been having trouble with it ever since. Most recently, the city of Birmingham in England decided to drop the apostrophe from officially listed place names. The horror, the horror. This Associated Press story will summarize the chorus of harrumphing that ensured.
Barbara Wallraff points out that that has been the policy for years of the U.S. board that establishes official place names. Such boards can establish what appears on road and street signs, but they have little or no effect on what people actually do. The tendency in English follows a familiar pattern: Over time, place names tend to lose apostrophes, except when they do not. Local practice can and does vary widely, which is why I am not stepping into the sterile Fells Point/Fells’ Point controversy ever again. Learn to tolerate a little ambiguity, people.
If you wish to become more fully informed, here’s an academic paper on the ragged history of this punctuation mark.
No doubt some of you are sick of the back-and-forth over Wikipedia. I am increasingly wiki-weary myself — yesterday I had to give the formal Wikipedia caution to my copy-editing students, who didn’t look half as frightened as I would have liked. But if there are a few of you who would like some actual information beyond the theological reflections of Wikipedia’s adherents — that is, a little more light and a little less heat — look here:.
Britain’s Independent has published a thoughtful article on the matter of who is writing for Wikipedia and who is editing it.
Mike Pope has kindly written about StackOverflow.com, where programmers share information. Jeff Atwood, who is involved in the wiki on that site at which programmers post their questions and sort out answers, has written a perceptive essay at CodingHorror.com on the question of authorship in a wiki environment.
No Wikipedia entries were consulted in the writing of this post.