What Does [sic] Mean?
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
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
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:
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