What Does [sic] Mean?

By Maeve Maddox

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.”

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109 Responses to “What Does [sic] Mean?”

  • Tony

    Finally I found the answer to what I was searching since young. This term sic Is found very often in print media in my country. Cheer, tony

  • ½rican

    Yup. I too have discovered that it is 11:30 on a Friday night, and I am entertaining myself by reading the debate. I’ve only recently (in articles) noticed the [sic]; and like many others, I gathered that it meant ˝spelling is copied˝ or somthing like that. Fun site. Also, to all of the Latin arguments… I think that if the origin were a latin acranym, would it not have periods in between the letters? I.e “e.g. ,p.s.R.I.P. ect.? And YES. I am aware of at least half of MY spelling, gramatical (ph) and puncuation errors. Forgive me. Only 6 were on purpose. The rest I blame on typeing on my phone, KettleOne+RedBull, and of course none of this horribly crafted thread could not be possible, w/out help from the “NewOrleans public school system”

  • Yaddimahhada

    As I would have figured it, “[sic]” would be an abbreviation of
    “(the) scribe is correct.”
    (A scribe, being, of course, a person who copies down documents.)

    Given the context that [sic] appears in writing; and that, it is usually made implicit that the writer is quoting someone directly, it serves the purpose of informing the reader that the writer is not imbecile (which it does regardless of .)

    Of course as I’ve come to know English writing practices, most of these abbreviations come from Latin–which explains the “thus” explanation (which I don’t have the background to approve, or disaprove.)

    The fact of the matter is rather that, these “abreviations” aren’t just “latin.” They hold appreciable significance in both Latin,and English; and neither are truly correct, or incorrect.
    Think of “R.I.P.” Requiescat in pace. Rest in peace. Both are applicable, both are relevant. It’s not just one, or the other. It is both of them, as they occur to you, maybe simultaneously .

    They are both merely placeholders, symbols, that relay a significance in your mind, that reliably brings forth a concept from your personal well of knowledge, to assist you in advancing through your life–Preferably in a manner that keeps you alive long enough to ensure the continuation of the species. Such is the nature of the development of group dynamic, and means of communication, such as language, in the first place.
    still, I’m biased in favor of my “scribal competence” theory.

  • Anurag Garg

    I think [sic] means still in conversation. This implies that the Quote taken from a larger piece of information and only relevant information is republished.

  • Arlene

    While reading a court transcript of my former husband’s testimony, I was amazed by the vast usage of: [sic].

    Honesty, I don’t understand why verbiage in the vernacular of the layman isn’t used for easier reading, nor am I an English major. ( Or perhaps this is just my ignorance speaking).

    I wasn’t taught about [sic] in school and am glad you have provided us with the translation for which I thank you.

  • Linz

    I seem to be the only one who also knows that “[sic]” is also the title of one of Grammy Award Winning heavy metal band Slipknot (often type set as SLIPKnoT) earler songs found on their self titled album Slipknot. although i doubt they were talking about spelling.

  • mark

    as I often say (ad naseum) it’s all about semantics, so boo sucks to you if you think this is waffle

    I came here looking the ‘sic a dog on him’ usage, I think the Latin for ‘thus’ actually works in both contexts

    btw, anyone who reads the English satirical mag Private Eye is very familiar with it’s slightly sarcastic implication (“yes, that’s what the fool said”) when applied in quoting a politician’s prounouncements

  • Em

    I’m with Diana, totally entertaining and somewhat informative. (Except I am at work.)

  • Mike Lavelle

    @sonyablade… My experience with using single quotes (and this of course is off the main subject now) relates to computer programming. Single quotes usually enclose a single character (a “character” is a standard programming data type). Standard quotes enclose what is known as a “string”, another data type that is basically successive characters, the number of which can be many. The reason for their being is, memory is allocated differently for each data type – a small amount for a single char and a larger amount for a string.

  • Sandokan

    Rod,
    If I still have a good memory of my latin classes in middle school back in Africa, here are some explanation of the acronyms you are interested in:

    1. i.e. stand for “idem est” meaning same as ;
    2. e.g. stand for “exempli gratia” meaning for example ;
    3. p.s. stand for “post scriptum” meaning a last note after the main text;
    4. sic … this article

  • Ellen

    I also thought for years that it was “spelling incorrect,” but found out the truth many years ago. 😉

  • Lu

    Rather conveniently [sic] can also be shorthand for “spelling incorrect”, that’s how i always think of it!

  • Saurabh

    I started noticing the usage of [sic] in indian newspapers/magazines from few months and saw it mostly when they quote Twitter or Facebook update of a celebrity – so I implicitly assume that it is their way of reporting a smiley – until today when i decided to finally google it. I suppose I am the most ‘ignnorrannt’ [Sic] of all the folks here !!

  • Tina

    Eric, I always thought it meant “spelling isn’t correct.” I noticed it was always entered after a misspelled word in a quotation and couldn’t think of anything else it would stand for lol.

  • Eric M

    @sonyablade – single quotation marks (‘ ‘), or apostrophes, are properly used as such only when a quote or work of literature is used within another quote so as not to confuse the reader. For instance, if you were quoting your friend John who was quoting his friend Nathan, it would read: So John said, “Nathan’s note said, ‘Thank you’. That’s it.”

  • Walter Coultrup

    Why did I read all of the above? I must be mad. The original article said it all. The rest was just waffle.

  • Vally

    @Tony,
    I have enjoyed reading this debate, as you called it, so in saying life is too short is a rather sweeping and some what incorrect remark. If people enjoy something is that not living life well? I am an absolute duffer when it comes to English, caused by a head injury, it’s good to learn these things, again, and I have a sneaky suspicion you have like it also.
    Thankyou everyone I have found this very illuminating. [sic] (for any mistakes made)

  • Diana

    I accidently came across this website and I have been completely entertained for the last half hour. I knew what sic meant but for some reason I was compelled to continue reading through all the comments. Some were absolutely hilarious and others were just highly informative. It is Friday night around 12:30 a.m. and I am reading a website about grammar! I love it! It also proves that I must be getting old. A year ago I would have never guessed I would be doing this on a Friday night! However, since I am already here maybe someone could explain what brackets around a pronoun indicate. I see it often in my studies or just general reading. Seems like I see it around pronouns a lot.

  • Peter

    I understand that sic is actually a Latin word but the person who decided to instate this punctuation law, for whatever reason, really is just trying to be trendy and kool. It’s really NOT that sick….

    It’s not “sick” anyway; it’s a long vowel — more like “seek”

  • Yogesh Dutta

    exact meaning of sic

  • doug swift of the tom swift swifts

    Well, I am impressed with the clever comments, intelligent references and interesting abbreviations. Abbreviations are definately the wave of the future as we sqz more and more wrds into smllr spaces. Eventually we will do away with all vwls, dble cnsnts, cptls, cs, qs, ys nd phs. thn th lngge wll b trly fcnt nt nly fcnt bt ls fctv. tn w wl b n th glrs ftr f – . thks l fr th wndrfl rtcl.

  • doofus

    It’s not always to do with spelling. Often times the editor just puts it in the make fun of what someone said.

  • Bliss

    So basically if I say I luv u 4ever 😀 XOXO it will say (Sic) on the end, b/c I chose to write a bunch of crap instead of the actual letters. Other than that, saying sick at the end of statements is STUPID! It sounds so childish like the ever popular “that’s sick” phrase. Who comes up with this stuff? Some 25 year old who can’t let go of his childhood? And yes, I understand that sic is actually a Latin word but the person who decided to instate this punctuation law, for whatever reason, really is just trying to be trendy and kool. It’s really NOT that sick….

  • Robert

    Always thought it was an abbreviation for “Spelled InCorrectly”.
    I was about 50% right, I guess.

  • Cheri Hoffer

    Thanks to everyone, as the whole discussion has been great fun! NO WONDER we have so many miscommunications with one another as humans, when so much is subjective with a single three letter word. My best to you all! CH

  • crystal

    I thought it stood for spelling isnt changed. 🙂 Guess I wasnt too far off the mark. Thanks for the Latin lessons!

  • Chad

    Erik – to be an idiot means that you know better and do it anyway – ignorant of the fact – is a better description of your knowledge in that instance. I did not know what [sic] stood for at all – so this actually has help expand my knowledge base. I have seen the use for years and never looked it up before. It is nice to know .

  • Ewald Erasmus

    With reference to my previous comment – would “see in contexts” be an explanation?

  • Ewald Erasmus

    I was always under the impression, and really only through inference, and thus without having any Latin insight or knowledge, that (sic) means that the author of a scientific article at least, expresses a certain amount of doubt of the statement preceding the (sic), i.e. the author implies it is nonsense. Any thoughts about this angle?

  • dirk dominic

    sic in latin is the short version of sicut which begins a simile and is usually translated as “as in or like”. The church latin “sicut in terra et in caelo” is a good illustration of the latin usage, but most classical latin writers use the short “ut” form. In verbal form it is used for confirmation with the meaning “and so it is…like the truth”

    the romance languages have continued its usage with “si” meaning “yes” or better “and so it is’.

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