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Sic for Sick Sentences

We have noticed a dismal new trend: not capitalizing words that need it. Flouting the rules of capitalization is yet another indignity visited upon our beleaguered language by self-appointed visionaries who seem hellbent on transforming standard English, even though many of them can barely read, write, or speak it.

From a recent magazine article: “ ‘i am just now noticing how long his arms are. maybe happy people have long arms,’ he emailed me.”

The writer of this piece chose not to point out that his correspondent should have capitalized “i” and “maybe.” It highlights an interesting problem: how to alert the reader when a direct quotation is in flawed English.

This is what the bracketed editor’s mark [sic] was invented for. The [sic] mark is found only in direct quotations, always enclosed in brackets. In formal writing, an author or editor inserts [sic] directly after a word or sentence to notify readers that something is off or incorrect but is reproduced exactly as it originally appeared (sic means “thus” in Latin). In the passage at hand, the “i” would be easy to deal with: “i [sic] am just now noticing …”

The “maybe” is more problematic. The use of [sic] has its practical limits. You’d never see “m[sic]aybe happy people have long arms.” And if the author wrote “maybe [sic] happy people have long arms,” the [sic] would be so far from the offending m that a reader might miss the point and think the entire word maybe was somehow unacceptable. Nonetheless, this is the only realistic option where [sic] is concerned.

By not confirming who was responsible for the lowercase i and m, the writer ran the risk that his readers would blame him for the e-mailer’s lapses. Evidently, this was a risk he was willing to take.

 

Pop Quiz

These sentences demonstrate bad habits that one sees frequently nowadays. Can you cure what ails them?

1. The real problem in such cases are the criminals.

2. Chocolate is our childrens’ favorite desert.

3. She’s not here- she left an hour ago.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. The real problem in such cases is the criminals. (It’s not pretty, but it’s correct.)

2. Chocolate is our children’s favorite dessert.

3. She’s not here—she left an hour ago. (Don’t use a hyphen to do a long dash’s work. Note: Some writers space long dashes on both sides, others (as here) use no spaces. Hyphens are never preceded or followed by a space.)

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Posted on Monday, January 27, 2014, at 2:01 pm


Use of Brackets

Brackets are used for a number of purposes:

Use #1: Sometimes, you may wish to clarify or add to an original quote. Put words that are being added to an original quote within brackets. Always put the changes in brackets, not parentheses. This tells your readers exactly how you have altered the original.
Example:
Original: She said, “I found their services invaluable.”
Amended: She said, “I found their [IT] services invaluable.”

Use #2: Use brackets as parentheses within parentheses. You will see this with bibliographic references.
Example: (For more on the topic, see The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation [2014].)

Use #3: Use brackets to show the pronunciation of a word.
Example: He mispronounced mischievous [mis-chuh-vuhs].

Use #4: Use brackets surrounding sic and italicize it. The Latin term sic is used to indicate that something written is intentionally left in the original form, which may be incorrect.
Example: She wrote, “They made there [sic] beds.”

 

Pop Quiz
Place brackets where needed.

  1. (For more details on brackets, see The Chicago Manual of Style 2010.)
  2. He has difficulty correctly pronouncing nuclear noo-klee-er.
  3. The instructions read, “Be sure to tighten it’s sic lid securely.”

 

Pop QuizAnswers

  1. (For more details on brackets, see The Chicago Manual of Style [2010].)
  2. He has difficulty correctly pronouncing nuclear [noo-klee-er].
  3. The instructions read, “Be sure to tighten it’s [sic] lid securely.”

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Posted on Tuesday, January 16, 2007, at 5:54 pm