What Does [sic] Mean?

By Maeve Maddox

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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 Responses to “What Does [sic] Mean?”

  • Brettels

    Well it’s the wee hours of the morning and I’m trying to read a book instead i’m reading six years of comments about a 3 letter word that I wasn’t sure what it meant. I’ll never forget again.

    My kids always say “fully sic” as in great or awesome but i don’t think somehow this has any relevance to the conversation above. 😁

  • Pay Paul

    5 years later Rich, I know. But that was funny.

  • Nick

    [sic] also applies to incorrect statements of fact; it’s not limited to spelling errors.

  • Jesse

    Six years and counting! I found this thread when I wanted to confirm I was using [sic] correctly- which I wasn’t- I thought it was latin for “something like that” … for use when quoting the exact phrase wasn’t possible.

  • Ben

    I always believed it was “Said In Citation”

  • Robert

    In quotes with multiple spelling, grammatical, and factual errors, are more than one “[sic]” required; perhaps following each error and at the end of the entire quote? I ask because I have found it necessary to quote a new Oval Office resident whose error-filled “speeches” and tweets are surpassed by only his broken mind and the thoughts it produces.
    Additionally, should not a comma appear after the word “asks”, prior to the quotation, as such: Samm [sic] asks, “What does [sic] mean?”
    Wonderful site and community.

  • venqax

    This is amazing. I had no idea that sic was so mysterious to so many, or that so many thought it was an abbreviation or an acronym. Why? It’s not capitalized. “Statement as citated”? Seriously? Not, “stated it’s ced”? or “seen in cartoon”?

  • Brian

    (SIC) is just and elitist way draw attention to errors, and demean the person being quoted. To an elitist, how something is said, and the grammatically accuracy, is much more important than the intended meaning of what is being said. I have met many blue collar workers who can not spell, but their wisdom is far beyond writers quoting them with (SIC). We do not need (SIC), we have “quotes”….aint that kind the point of the quotes…… I left many errors above so the elitists here can use (SIC), when quoting me 🙂

  • Ramesh kumar Shrivastava

    I think that the original text should be stated first by post-fixing the latin word sic within bracket.Henceforth original may be corrected to make the sentence meaningful.

  • Rick

    Sick Transit? You on about my van??

  • Vickie

    In the court reporting world, we also use [sic] for when an individual uses an incorrect word when speaking. Ecspecially, for instance. I could put [phonetic], but then that would seem to imply that I don’t know how to spell especially. Or the other day I had an attorney say radicalupathy…..literally radical up-athy. He didn’t know how to pronounce radiculopathy. If I had put [phonetic], then it would have appeared that I didn’t know how to spell it, when it was, in fact, the speaker that didn’t know how to say it.

  • S. Rohr

    Ten years later, a new comment!! Well, 11 cuz it’s 2018.

    But my biggest peeve as of late is the grotesque misuse of “sell” vs “sale”. SO many times I read folks writing about how, “I want to sale my xyz”. “We was going to sale our house but decided to keep it.”

    Oh my God. It’s “I want to sell my xyz.”
    (“We was….” “Her and I…..” other huge peeves. Oh, and “back round” instead of ‘background”.


  • S. Rohr

    Omg I’ve internally read it as “spelling is correct” as in “hey the quoted person spelled it bad – I didn’t”.

    46 years old and now I learned something.

  • venqax

    @Tony: Acronyms? It is helpful because it is wrong. The author’s explanation is the correct one. I can’t even think of an example where any acronym is used in formal corrective notations– n.b., e.g., i.e., cf, sic– they are almost always Latin. Sp for spelling is an informal editorial mark, not a formal notation. Different beast. If a word were misspelled in a printed text, post editing, it would be marked with [sic], not with an sp. The idea that sic would be an abbreviation an acronym shows a lot. None of it good, but not the fault of the misinformed who are simply never taught any of these things. But wrong stuff is helpful too, no kidding or sarcasm intended.

  • venqax

    @Brian: Actually, [sic] is a very non-elitist way of indicating that when I quote you, as in,

    “I have met many blue collar [sic] workers who can not [sic] spell, but their [sic] wisdom is far beyond writers [sic, maybe? to weak a construction to know] quoting them with (SIC) [sic]”

    readers are aware that the illiterate is you, not me. That is important to me, obviously not to you. What construction workers know– or have relative wisdom of– is of no relevance to this at all. I know great pool players who suck at ping pong. So… what? Ping pong players who insist on paddles instead of cue sticks are somehow “elitist”? I know that is challenging analogy. A challalogy!

    “I left many errors above so the elitists here can use (SIC), when quoting me.” Yeah. We know. Sure. Everyone does that.

  • venqax

    @Carlisle: “Not to put too fine a point on it, but “sic” is italicized”. No, it does not have to be. It’s been “adopted” and anglicized for quite a long time. How’s that for a decade-later response!

  • Jeremy

    Although [sic} in brackets is used to express a word or sentence exactly as someone else wrote it, (sic) in parenthesis = “Sarcasm In Content”

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