Figuring Out the Trick Behind [sic]



We’ve all seen it at some point when reading: a three-letter package in brackets. It follows text to draw attention to or make a point about it.

We’re talking about [sic]. What is it—and when do we accurately use it?

Fowler’s Modern English Usage explains that sic is Latin for “so, thus.” It is a complete word and so requires no punctuation for abbreviation. It is inserted within brackets after quoted text to establish its accuracy as a quotation. In essence, sic stands for “in case you’re in doubt, this appeared in the original material.”

On that note, writers should include [sic] after something quoted only when they intuit readers will doubt it as presented. The Associated Press Stylebook further advises to exclude [sic] unless it is in material being quoted—i.e., writers should not employ it within their own writing.

Common examples of quoted text prompting insertion of [sic] are misspellings, misused words, and imprecise statements. For instance, if quoting a political luminary known as well spoken, writers might include [sic] if the individual speaks atypically: “I just don’t know what lays [sic] ahead with all of the activism mounting against the legislation,” said Sen. Brackenridge.

Another otherwise articulate speaker might be caught saying, “We are excited about the enormity [sic] of the attendance for this year’s event.” Here, the speaker is misusing the word “enormity,” which means “monstrous wickedness.”

If quoting from a column that includes “Upon becoming a state in 1947, Israel…,” writers would add [sic] after the opening phrase because Israel became a state in 1948 (“Upon becoming a state in 1947 [sic], Israel…”).

At the same time, [sic] should not be used to emphasize what is obvious or expected; a writer should refrain from it if an error is clear within its context. For example, a slogan for a state lottery game might read “Daily Scratch: It’s a lotto pay for those who play!” Inserting [sic] after “lotto” would be unnecessary when quoting that content. Similarly, quoting writing or speech from different U.S. regions will often allow for variations in dialect, which could include alternate spellings, expressions, and contractions.

Typographical treatment of the bracketed word is often a matter of writer’s preference. Where many writers present it as [sic] (italics), others will use [sic] (no italics). The Chicago Manual of Style advises italicizing it because of its “peculiar use in quoted matter.”

In sum, simply remember [sic] applies only to addressing reader doubt about quoted material. Also exclude it from your own writing and from that in which a quoted misspelling or misuse of a word will be understood. Maintaining these guidelines, you’ll ensure that [sic] rarely—if ever—tricks you.

 

Pop Quiz

Identify whether the insertion of [sic] in the following quoted material is warranted. Answers are at the bottom of the newsletter.

1) “I can’t believe y’all [sic] got so worked up about a little break in the main pipe.” (Yes / No)

2) “What the council thought was the problem proved to be vice-a-versa [sic].” (Yes / No)

3) “Irregardless [sic], the manager stuck to his lineup for the playoffs even though the GM was against it.” (Yes / No)

4) “Southwest Airlines attributes much of its recent success to its emphasis on ‘transfarency’ [sic].” (Yes / No)

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1) “I can’t believe y’all [sic] got so worked up about a little break in the main pipe.” No: common regional dialect

2) “What the council thought was the problem proved to be vice-a-versa [sic].” Yes: should be vice versa

3) “Irregardless [sic], the manager stuck to his lineup for the playoffs even though the GM was against it.” Yes: Irregardless is not a word

4) “Southwest Airlines attributes much of its recent success to its emphasis on ‘transfarency’ [sic].” No: transfarency is an intentional play on the words transparency and fare

Posted on Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at 11:00 pm

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