The Latin adverb sic ("thus"; in full: sic erat scriptum, "thus it had been written") added immediately after a quoted word or phrase (or a longer piece of text), indicates that the quotation has been transcribed exactly as found in the original source, complete with any erroneous spelling or other nonstandard presentation. The usual purpose is to inform the reader that any errors or apparent errors in the transcribed material do not arise from transcription errors, and the errors have been repeated intentionally, i.e., that they are reproduced exactly as set down by the original writer or printer. It may also be used as a form of ridicule or as a humorous comment, drawing attention to the original writer's spelling mistakes or emphasizing his or her erroneous logic. Sic is generally placed inside square brackets, or in parentheses (round brackets), and traditionally in italic, as is customary when printing a foreign word.
"Professor Smith stated that 'in the Domesday Book of 1087 [sic]' the king owned more manors than any other person." The professor had given the incorrect date for Domesday Book (recte 1086) and leaving his error uncorrected followed by [sic] emphasises that the error was his. The professor has thus been somewhat ridiculed. A more diplomatic way of quoting the professor would have been to omit the date altogether whilst retaining the substance of his argument or simply to have corrected it in the knowledge that it was a "slip of the pen".
Etymology and usage history
Though occasionally misidentified as an abbreviated word, sic is a Latin adverb incorporated into the English-language similarly as an adverb (also used by some as a noun and verb).
The adverb sic – meaning "intentionally so written", first appeared in English circa 1856. It is derived from the Latin adverb sīc, which contains a long vowel and means "so, thus, in this manner",[note 1] "as such" or "in such a manner".
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb form of sic, meaning "to mark with a sic", emerged in 1889, citing E. Belfort Bax's work in The Ethics of Socialism as one of the early examples. That piece by Bax, "On Some Forms of Modern Cant," had actually appeared even earlier in Commonweal, published in 1887.
Usage of sic greatly increased in the mid-twentieth century. For example, in state-court opinions prior to 1944, the Latin loanword appeared a total of 1,239 times in the Westlaw database; in those from 1945 to 1990, it appeared 69,168 times. The "benighted use" as a form of ridicule, deserved or otherwise has been cited as a major factor for this increase.
On occasion, sic has been misidentified as an acronym "s.i.c." for "spelled in context", "said in copy", "spelling is correct", "spelled incorrectly", and other phrases. These are all backronyms from sic.
Sic, in its bracketed form, is most often inserted into quoted or reprinted material in order to indicate meticulous accuracy in reproducing the preceding text despite appearances to the reader of an incorrect or unusual orthography (spelling, punctuation, etc.), grammar, fact or logic. Several usage guides recommend that a bracketed sic be used primarily as an aid to the reader, and not as an indicator of disagreement with the source.
To denote archaisms
A sic may show that an uncommon or archaic usage is reported faithfully, such as when quoting the U.S. Constitution: "The House of Representatives shall chuse [sic] their Speaker ..." However, various writing guidebooks discourage its use with regard to dialect such as in cases of American and British English spelling differences, unless of course used to convey ridicule. For instance, the appearance of a bracketed sic after the word analyse on a book cover led Bryan A. Garner to comment, "... all the quoter (or overzealous editor) demonstrated was ignorance of British usage." Clearly the quoter would have preferred the U.S. spelling "analyze".
To denote errors of fact or logic
When no orthographic or grammatical irregularities are apparent, use of sic may serve to draw the reader's attention to a factual or logical error.
Wordplay & puns
Various wordplays regarding the word sic are possible, arising either from its second polysemic meaning "to attack" or from its homophone sick. The latter case is exemplified by the humorous expression "Poor grammar makes me [sic]" – which has been featured on clothing and postcards.
Another example of this kind of pun can be found in the website TV Tropes, which uses it as an article title as well as in a letter to the American Journal of Roentgenology criticizing their apparent overuse of sic as a kind of linguistic discrimination against those from a foreign-language background that "could lead readers to become 'sick of your sic'".
Form of ridicule
The use of sic can be seen as an example of the linguistic device of appeal to ridicule, whether intentional or not, because it highlights perceived irregularities. The application of sic with intent to disparage has been called the "benighted use" because it creates a "false sense of superiority" in its users. The following example from The Times demonstrates how the interpolation of sic can subtly discredit a quoted statement.
In newly generated text
While chiefly used in text that is not one's own, occasionally a sic is included by a writer after his or her own word(s) to note that the language has been chosen deliberately for special effect, especially where the writer's ironic meaning may otherwise be unclear. Bryan A. Garner dubbed this kind of usage of sic as the "ironic use," providing the following example from Fred Rodell's Nine Men:
[I]n 1951, it was the blessing bestowed on Judge Harold Medina's prosecution [sic] of the eleven so-called "top native Communists," which blessing meant giving the Smith Act the judicial nod of constitutionality.
Nonetheless, a writer's use of sic in his or her own words may lead readers to assume the source of the sic to be the book's editor and is often considered unconventional even when the sic "ironic use" reference is correctly understood.
When placed within quoted material, square brackets are almost invariably used in modern U.S. usage: "[sic]". Traditionally the sic appears after the quote in parentheses (round brackets): "(sic)", especially when the error is obvious. Traditionally the word sic appears italicized within the brackets: "(sic)", following the convention that usage of italic type serves to indicate foreign words. This academic usage has become rarer in recent times, perhaps because fewer academics are nowadays conversant with Latin, and cannot therefore recognise words from classical languages. While most style guidelines including The MLA Style Manual do not require italicization, others do, such as the APA Style. The APA Style insists upon the underlining of sic as an alternative when italic type is not available.
There have been cases of the use of sic having been interpreted as a form of ridicule which have resulted in backlash towards the publications in which they appear. Backlash can also happen as a result of a misplaced sic even when there was no intent to disparage. When the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) quoted a statement referring to an afterlife, then failed to remove a sic after correcting the minor punctuation error it contained, the network received criticism for apparently suggesting that the religious belief expressed was odd or erroneous. By convention, when no orthographic or grammatical errors are present, the use of sic often indicates the presence of a fallacy or error in logic.
Usage of sic has been noted for its potential to affect linguistic discrimination. A letter written to the American Journal of Roentgenology (AJR) has been cited in the journal's French counterpart, the Journal de Radiologie, highlighting how apparent prejudices among English-language journals may be causing a higher rejection rate of scholarly papers from francophone authors – a concern because English is the lingua franca for medicine. In the letter, the AJR was criticized for its frequent insertion of sic when publishing letters written by French and Japanese authors even though its correspondence acceptance policy reserved the right of copy-editing, which could therefore have been used beneficially to correct minor English language errors made by non English-speakers. In response, Lee F. Rogers, the Editor in Chief of AJR, apologized for the possible discriminatory interpretation and offered the following explanation for its decision to insert sic on multiple occasions rather than to copy-edit:
It is true that our manuscript editors normally remedy errors in the use of the English language to ensure reader understanding and to avoid embarrassing our non–English-speaking authors. However, because of the seriousness of the allegations addressed, we believed that verbatim quotes were necessary. Under such circumstances, we did not think it correct for us to assume the meaning of misspelled words or the intent of the author of the letter in question.
Various usage guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, recommend "quiet copy-editing" (unless where inappropriate or uncertain) instead of inserting a bracketed sic, such as by substituting in brackets the correct word (if known) in place of the incorrect word.
Alternatively, when both the original and the suggested correction are desired to be shown (as they often are in palaeography), one may give the actual form, followed by sic in brackets, followed by the corrected form preceded by recte in brackets. The word recte, is a Latin adverb meaning "rightly",
An Iraqi battalion has consumed [sic] [recte assumed] control of the former American military base, and our forces are now about 40 minutes outside the city.
According to the Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music Style Sheet, there should be no punctuation, for example no colon, before the corrected word when using recte. Sometimes only sic and the correction are in the bracket, becoming as in the last example "[sic assumed]" (i.e. recte is omitted).
- The word so is another English adverb derived from sīc, according to the Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary, yet the Collins Dictionary of the English Language gives the origin as Germanic.
- Simon Harcourt Nowell-Smith was, according to an article in The Independent, a "great bibliophile and bibliographical scholar of the highest order."
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- E. Belfort Bax. On Some Forms of Modern Cant. Commonweal: 7 May 1887. Marxists’ Internet Archive: 14 Jan. 2006
- Bryan A. Garner. The Oxford dictionary of American usage and style. Oxford University Press US, 2000. ISBN 0-19-513508-3, ISBN 978-0-19-513508-4
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- Mark Finkelstein. "ABC's 'Sic' Choice Suggests Belief in Afterlife an Error [Update With Reply From ABC]." NewsBusters. 01/01/2007. Updated: 01/03/2007
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