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Sic not

An article arrived at the desk last night with a couple of errors in a quoted text marked with [sic].

I marked the proof to delete it.

Sic, the Latin adverb for thus, is conventionally used, particularly in academic writing, to indicate that the error is in the matter being quoted, not an error by the writer. In journalistic writing it almost invariably looks, well, snotty, suggesting an I-know-better-than-this-schlub tone. And it requires square brackets, which are contrary to the effect of conversational language that journalism seeks.

Besides, the frequency of errors by journalists in orthography, grammar, and usage, in print and online, doesn’t leave much room to take a superior tone about other people’s mistakes.

If there is an error of grammar or usage in quoted speech, publish it as it was said or paraphrase it. In quoting from a text, quote it the way it was written or paraphrase it. In academic writing, where snotty superiority is central to the game, [sic] away. 



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:43 AM | | Comments (7)


" In quoted from a text ..." Perhaps "quoting"?

I agree completely with your advice on this one, by the way. Pedantic correction makes me [sic]. (Borrowed that one from Martha Brockenbrough.)


Hmm..... I try my best not to speak ill of the (sic). (Groan!)

(Sorry, I couldn't locate the 'square' bracket 'thingies' on my iMac keyboard, so these (curvy) ones will have to do.)

@Tim, I trust your Ms. Martha Brockenbrough is a 'real', flesh-and-blood person? Most likely, if the truth be known, some kind of committed wordsmith, long-suffering academic, or other?

But respectfully, (to both you and Ms. Martha B.), she could just as easily be a character plucked right from the pages of any Dickens' novel, although perhaps 'Brokenbough', clearly sans the letters "c' and the following "r", would have a slightly more Dickensian flavor about it.

Frankly, I much laud, and applaud this aspect of Sir Charles' (no, not Barkley HA!) 'picturesque' fiction, where he appeared to have had constant fun, and delight in creating such visually descriptive, slightly odd, often hilarious, character-laden fictional personalities to populate his always engaging narratives. Such a special gift. Such sheer whimsy. Such literary genius.

Alas, our (sic) blog debate rages on......... and I'm perfectly OK with that. HA!

Ducky (sic) Isaksson............I'm history!

So, you're calling out [sic] as opposed to calling in [sic].

(Couldn't resist.)

While we are on the topic of errors, I received in my inbox an email from ProofreadNow this week. The quiz included the word "guage" (for gauge). Here's the reply I received, in its entirety: Thanks for the kind note. We will find out who let that in and execute immediately.

----Julian M. Bucknall,

Very, very clever, indeed. Bravo!

(A most worthy ten-out-of-ten 'funny', I'd say.)

Ye olde "in", versus "out", or vis-a-versa, conundrum, eh?

Either way you parse it, it's all just plain (sic) in the final reckoning, no?

@Dahlink. Wow! Talk about extreme Draconian punitive measures for such a seemingly minor flub. I wonder if the unfortunate 'flubber' even has a choice as to method of 'execution'? Oh, the humanity!

Hmm..... anyway, isn't the "guage" where Elmer Fudd usually parks his 'quwasic 1949 Caddlewack'? HA! (I know....... that was just plain, flat-out silly.)

Ducky "Sicko" Issaksson................ "That's all folks!"

To the tune of "Who Let the Dogs Out?": [Sic] 'em!

In academic writing, "sic" is not simply used to mark an "error." It is simply a note that alerts the reader that, yes, this is the way it originally appears in work being quoted. It may mark an error; it may mark an archaic spelling; it may mark a play on words that resembles another word, etc.

The purpose is to alert the reader that you haven't introduced a typo or change and the unusual form is indeed in the original.

In journalism, where the written record is often only in the reporter's notes, this use doesn't really apply.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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