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.)

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

If you wish to respond to another reader's question or comment, please click its corresponding "REPLY" button. If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

11 Comments on Sic for Sick Sentences

11 responses to “Sic for Sick Sentences”

  1. Maria says:

    Hello.

    Are you familiar with the editorial practice of silently correcting source documents’ errors except in literary criticism or historical analysis? In THE COPYEDITOR’S HANDBOOK, Amy Einsohn discusses this practice as acceptable and seems to imply that the usage of [sic] is falling away.

    Thank you.

    • We are not aware of this practice. We do not endorse “correcting” someone else’s writing, with no acknowledgment.

      • Mohamed S Rachidi says:

        If we refer to APA guidelines regarding the correction of a quoted material, we will see that it is allowed to correct punctuation and capitalization inside any quoted item. In that case, you can add or remove a capital, as well as a period or any other punctuation sign.
        The CMS goes further and allows correcting minor spelling errors instead of just adding the Latin term {sic}.

        • The Chicago Manual of Style, section 13.7, expresses that the wording should be reproduced exactly in a direct quotation, although changes such as you mentioned “are generally permissible to make a passage fit into the syntax and typography of the surrounding text.”

  2. Allan G. says:

    I think this problem comes from people using their phones or Ipads rather than their desktop or laptop keyboards. When typing with one hand, it may be too much work to shift to capitals before starting a new sentence. In my opinion it is mere laziness rather than grammatical ignorance.

  3. James A. says:

    When you next update your website, please include the rule of whether to capitalize the first letter when words such as “iPad” appear first in a sentence.

    • We are pleased to inform you that we did include this situation in the eleventh edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, just released on February 10. We are now in the process of updating the website to reflect the new edition. The following appears at the end of Rule 3 of Capitalization:

      “If a trademark starts with a lowercase word or letter (e.g., eBay, iPhone), many authorities advise capitalizing it to begin a sentence.

      Example: EBay opened strong in trading today.

  4. Bob Price says:

    I’ve got a better suggestion for example three; don’t use a dash or hyphen; use a semicolon. This use of the dash is horrendous, an invitation to slobber all over the rules for punctuating complex and compound constructions.

  5. Nick G. says:

    I love Latin, but the awkwardness and pedantry of [_sic_] can be avoided by using caps in square brackets: “ ‘[I] am just now noticing how long his arms are. [M]aybe happy people have long arms,’ he emailed me.” The context afford no other inferences in the brackets.

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *