ยท Written by

Sic transit gloria

From time to time you will see the term “sic” used in a quotation. For example:

Bob Sampson made a decision that no reasonable men [sic] could have reached.

It is used to show that something that appears odd or wrong comes from the original. So, in the example above, “sic” indicates that the confusion between “man” and “men” was in the original, not a mistake by the person quoting it.

“Sic” is widely used in the academic world to avoid ambiguity and confusion. It appears in legal writing for the same reason.

There are good uses and bad uses of this. Precision is important. “Sic” can usefully clarify a quote where necessary.

On the other hand, too many people use “sic” as a goad; to pick up and point out every grammatical or other mistake that they perceive in what the other side writes. This is foolish point scoring. It will upset the other side to no good purpose and make you look like a bully.

If you do not use “sic” you have two options. Firstly, you can correct the original mistake in the quotation. This is normally the best option with spelling mistakes. It is less appropriate when the mistake is one of grammar or wording, since you may be accused of altering the meaning of the quote. The second option is simply to replicate the original, without comment. Where there is no possibility of confusion, this is a perfectly sensible approach.

Finally, if you do use “sic”, be sure you are right. Mistaken pedantry is rarely attractive.

4 comments

    • Michael

      I think I’m in bounds. Fowler (2nd ed.) uses ‘pedantry’ in this sense. If it’s good enough for Fowler, it’s good enough for me!

      But thank you for ‘pedanticism’; a word I hadn’t previously discovered.

  1. val russell

    I think that ‘sic’ should have been inserted after the incorrect spelling of the word ‘perceive’.
    I’m aghast that a spelling mistake has been made in an article such as this, quite shameful really!

  2. Michael

    You’re quite right. It is shocking.

    But thank you for pointing it out and giving me a chance to correct it!

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>