What Does [sic] Mean?

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Samm [sic] asks “What does [sic] mean?”

Sic in square brackets is an editing term used with quotations or excerpts. It means “that’s really how it appears in the original.”

It is used to point out a grammatical error, misspelling, misstatement of fact, or, as above, the unconventional spelling of a name.

For example, you might want to quote the printed introduction to a college catalog:

Maple Leaf College is well-known for it’s [sic] high academic standards.

Sic is the Latin word for “thus,” or “such.”

When John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln and jumped from the balcony to the stage of Ford’s Theatre, he is said to have shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” He meant “that’s what tyrants get;” literally, “Thus always to tyrants.”

Another common Latin expression you might come across is sic transit gloria mundi. It means “thus passes the glory of the world.” It’s a thought that might occur as one stands by a crumbling pyramid or where the Twin Towers once stood in New York City.

Where I grew up, people who wanted a dog to attack said “sic ’em!” I’ve seen it in a dictionary spelled “sick,” as in “sick him!” This use is first recorded in 1845 and may come from a dialectal version of seek, “to look for” or “to pursue.”

[sic] in newspapers

Bernheimer wrote: “Salonen isn’t one of those conductors who pretends ( sic ) not to read criticism.” And “Salonen is not one of those lofty musicians who believes ( sic ) that art can survive in a vacuum.” — LA Times

Remembr speling?

Neither does our president. In his first tweet as POTUS — posted at 11:57 a.m. on Jan. 21 — @realDonaldTrump tweeted, “I am honered [sic] to serve you, the great American People, as your 45th President of the United States!” (He later deleted the message.) — LA Times

In the handwritten letter, Corbett writes to Bullock: “You could of (sic) had me today however you choose other people over me. I’ll be around as you know. I love you.” — USA Today

Video Recap

Should You Use [sic] in Your Piece of Writing?

Since [sic] is designed to draw attention to something that may be misspelled, incorrect, or at the very least unusual, it may not always be appropriate to use it when you’re quoting someone. It depends on what you’re writing and on your relationship with the person being quoted.

If you’re writing an academic paper, then [sic] is almost always appropriate where necessary: it makes it clear that any error or mistake is not your own, or it highlights an unusual spelling that readers might otherwise assume is incorrect.

If you’re quoting someone in a newspaper report, you might consider it necessary to use [sic] to ensure that you preserve the accuracy of the quote whilst also making it clear to readers that you do, in fact, know that “would of” is ungrammatical.

In other contexts, though, you might seek an alternative to using [sic]. Perhaps you’re quoting someone you admire in a blog post, and you don’t want to inadvertently make them look or feel bad.

Another common situation where you might use quotations is in testimonials from customers or clients. Again, you’re unlikely to want to make these people feel that you’re pointing out their mistakes.

If you’re writing something that’s fairly informal, like a chatty opinion column for a website, you might also find that the use of [sic] could come across as a little formal and stilted.

Finally, if you want to introduce a quick, brief quote that doesn’t draw attention away from your own writing, you may feel that using [sic] is a little distracting for the reader.

Alternatives to Using [sic]

In any of the above situations, or in any other instance when you’d prefer not to use [sic], good alternatives include:

  • Ignoring the problem altogether, and using the quotation as-is – even if something is not entirely grammatical or correct.
  • Omitting the problematic part of the quotation (especially if it’s relatively unimportant) by using […] to signify an omission.
  • Lightly editing the quotation to fix the issue, if it’s a simple spelling mistake or obvious grammatical error.
  • Contacting the person you’re quoting to let them know that there’s a small mistake in a piece of their writing (if you’re quoting from a website, ebook, or something else that’s easy for them to fix). You could do this in conjunction with any of the above methods, if you want to use the quotation immediately.

Ultimately, there is no rule that you must use [sic] – so consider whether it’s appropriate for your context and purposes.

Also, of course, if you are going to use [sic] when quoting someone or sharing an excerpt of a piece of writing, do be very careful that you have the correct facts (or correct spelling). If you use [sic] because you’ve misunderstood an unusual word or a point of grammar, then that could look a little silly.

Using [sic] Correctly Quiz

Select the appropriate place for [sic] to go in each of these (fictitious) quotations:

  • 1. “The childrens were playing on the slide.”

    At the end of the sentence
    After “childrens”
  • 2. “On a better day, I would of liked to help.”

    After “of”
    After “would”

  • 3. “There are no trains on mondays or at weekends.”

    After “mondays”
    After “are”
  • 4. “The kids are Sarah, Samm, and Susan.”

    At the end of the sentence
    After “Samm”

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117 thoughts on “What Does [sic] Mean?”

  1. We use this quite a bit when working on academic papers. Often, the client will be quoting a source that has a grammatical or spelling problem. We use [sic] to indicate that the error is in the original source, not in the client’s ability to quote the source accurately.

  2. Just came across this example in a BBC story online.

    —In a web posting they added: “no doubt that our attacks can be significantly improved, since we used relatively unexpensive equipments [sic].” —- The writers wanted to show that they know it should be “inexpensive equipment.” The person being quoted is not a native speaker.

  3. I think I read on this site that someone believed “sic” to stand for “said in context”. That’s how I’ve always remembered it, even if it’s not a direct translation, the point remains.

  4. Oh, really. Good to know. For some reason, I thought the same thing as Eric and Jeff. I even took Latin for 4 years in high school, I should have known better…

  5. I always wondered what this meant, I always see it in Anne Rule’s books and have asked several people what it means and no one seems to know. Then I got the brilliant idea to google it! Thanks people

  6. I had always assumed it was an acronym as well. Something like “Sentence in context” or “Statement in context.” Meaning that in the original context of the article, the errors and omissions of the quotation make sense. With whoever is writing the article adding in things like [T]his and [A. Nonymous, 1987] into the quote make it more readable.

  7. Hi, I’m new and thank you for your very informative column. I’ve already learned so much.

    I too, always wondered what [sic] means, and now you’ve cleared it up for me. I love the, “said in context” explannation, I’ll keep that in mind. love your column and thank you!

  8. Thank you for this…I have been seeing this a lot on the web lately and wondered what it meant. I have even used the word “sic em, Sam” before without ever knowing where it came from.


  9. Nice post! Not to put too fine a point on it, but “sic” is italicized (though the brackets are not).

  10. Reading a news article about an interview with Dick Cheney brought me here. He called Osama bin Laden “Obama” {sic.}
    Had to know what it meant. Thanks.

  11. To CC, ad hoc is a networking term where you share a network connection from one network adapter to another network adapter on the same computer. Common applications of this are to have a desktop that is near a modem that is receiving a wired internet signal that it can then share through a wireless adapter to other computers around a household.. Not the best method but it’s a quick fix to router issues.

    But if you read it in an article, I guess it might have another meaning.. According to wikipedia-
    “Ad hoc is a Latin phrase which means “for this [purpose]”. It generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and which cannot be adapted to other purposes.”

    Thanks, I had to look up what [sic] meant after reading an article.. I knew what it meant but I thought that putting [sic] after something meant that the original persons mistake made them literally sick. xD

  12. It’s good to know; Could you post a little glossary of this kind of “acronyms” and what they stand for in Latin and in English
    like eg. ie. ps. sic and so on thanks

  13. I heard a long time ago it was an acronym for “Spelling InCorrect”. That made sense usually because if you looked carefully you could find something wrong with the spelling or grammar somewhere. {sic}

    Thanks for the info. Its good to finally know what it really means!

  14. @Tirk:

    Ad hoc does not come from computing, and is more usually used elsewhere. The term means ‘For this’, usually to mean a unique use for a given scenario.

    Therefore, it is used in computing to mean that something is created for each scenario (as you go along), just like in many other contexts (long before computing) to indicate that something is being created for purpose, for example someone speaking without a script in a given situation creates their speech ad hoc; for the purpose of the situation.

  15. Coming from a military background, I have always understood this acronym to mean “Staff In Confidence”. However when reading articles, it just does not make sense in that context. Thankfully I now know what it means thanks to you Maeve.

  16. The responding emails have also helped me understand.
    What is the difference in using brackets as opposed to parenthesis?

    …and I used to be so good in English! The more I know, the more I don’t know…

  17. I studies a lot of Latin, and can’t argue with the fact that “sic” means “thus” in Latin. I also agree that it is used the way described above – to indicate that the writer knows the preceding is incorrect, but replicated the error when quoting the original source.
    What I have trouble with is reconciling the two. If I reference a quote from another source and inserted “thus” instead of “sic,” it wouldn’t really explain it to me. However I do remember my latin teacher telling us that “sic” was an abbreviation for “scriptum in corporum” (or something reasonably close to that), which meant “written in the body [of the original text].”
    Admittedly, I can’t seem to find a corroborating source today, and I must admit, “scriptum in corporum” could have been a clever ruse designed to teach the class three Latin words instead of one, but I do find “scriptum in corporum” much more logical than “thus.”

  18. In first sentence “studies” = “studied”

    Maybe my comment would have been more credible if I had gotten through the first sentence without a typo 😉

  19. “Maple Leaf College is well-known for it’s [sic] high academic standards.”

    This is either an excellent example of trolling or a rather funny mistake.

    The college may be well known for “its” high academic standards, but certainly not for “it’s” standards. The latter doesn’t even make sense.

  20. @ Mick
    Funnily enough, that’s exactly the point – that is why you add the [sic], because as the person quoting, you recognise that the original writer is in error. If you thought “it’s” was correct, you wouldn’t have the [sic].

  21. The reason (sic) is seen a lot today is due to the amount of quotes in newspaper articles taken from the internet – and of course articles shown on the internet, which were taken from the internet!
    Just shows how one advance in communication has been to the detriment of another.
    What it also shows us is the literacy levels of the Worlds 16 -25 yr olds.

  22. I think the author has made an incorrect connection with the “Sic” used by Booth and the [sic] used in written context. I was taught that [sic] is an acronym, much like the (sp) your English teacher used to put on your papers. It means “spelled in context”, which concords perfectly with one poster’s assertion that it is an acronym for “scriptum in corporum”, however I believe the Latin would have it “en corporum” rather than “in corporum”. I could be wrong.

    The acronym [sic] is only properly used when quoting TEXT in written form, when the originator of the quoted text made an error. Such as if a bank robber presented a note to a bank teller that said, “Put the mony in the bag.” In order for an investigator to properly present the written text in his/her report, which would later become testimonial in court, he/she would write the message as, “Put the mony [sic] in the bag.”, so readers would know the originator misspelled the word and not the investigator. [sic] is not properly used for quoting spoken words.

    For textual quoting of spoken words, when the writer is unsure of spelling, such as a person’s name, the abbreviation (ph), to indicate a phonetic spelling, is appropriate.

    Brackets are used when inserting words into quoted text that are not part of the original quote. Parenthesis are used to make parenthetical comments in a sentence, which may be explanatory, but not contextually appropriate to include in the sentence. They are not interchangeable, as is commonly supposed.

    Hope that long-winded explanation has some value for somebody.

  23. I think I will go for “Said in Context” from @Zeke sounds like the most reasonable explanation. Or “sentence in context”. That could work also.

    Thank you either way everyone I have always wondered what it meant.

  24. I always thought it stood for “spelling in cuestion”
    Yeah, I know… I thought someone else had the spelling wrong.
    I’m the true idiot, and I win.

  25. This is a much clear explanation, and much simplier. (remembering Ockham’s Razor)
    Sic is a Latin word meaning “thus”, “so”, “as such”, or “in such a manner”. It is used when writing quoted material to indicate that an incorrect or unusual spelling, phrase, punctuation or meaning in the quote has been reproduced verbatim from the original and is not a transcription error. – Wikipedia

  26. Hmm, most interesting thing i have read in a while.

    Always had an idea of what this meant but could not have asked for a better put out explanation, what a shame for common english to have phased out so much of the old latin of the day

  27. It’s good to learn something new everyday…and today I have!

    And I ordered the free eBook as well, so my day is off to a good start.

    ~ Greg

  28. I always thought it was simply from the Slipknot song “[sic]”
    At the end of all their concerts they say, “stay sic”

  29. @mcgee: I really enjoyed your comment. All of them were quite bluntly put. I thought of the Latin meaning from “sic transit gloria mundi” but didn’t see the [sic] part actually fit in the context, so I mostly settled for the idea that the writer was making fun of the reader, as in: “Sic! I told you so!”. It doesn’t make much sense. At all.
    About the Slipknot song, I know what you’re talking about. They also have an album entitled MFKR which stands for Mate Feed Kill Repeat, so the sic thing might get one confused.

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