Quoting Accurately with Sic

Sic indicates that the word or phrase it follows has been written or spelled in the same way it originally was, even though it appears to be a mistake. Writers often use sic (which comes into English from the Latin word for so or thus) when they’re quoting material from another source. The use of sic lets the writer off the hook for any spelling or grammatical errors that appear in the original material they’re quoting, since it tells the reader that the writer had nothing to do with the error in question. Typically sic appears inside square brackets to show that it’s not part of the quotation. Some writers may also italicize the word or place it in parentheses. Some style guides insist on italicizing sic even when it’s inside square brackets.

One common use of sic is in quoting historical documents that feature old-fashioned spellings that are no longer in use. When the word is used in this context, it’s an easy way to point out that the spelling of a particular word has changed over time, but that the traditional spelling is being used here.

Sic is also used when quoting a speaker who has accidentally misspoken. For instance, court reporters may insert sic in square brackets if a witness or attorney clearly uses the wrong word in court, for example saying perpetrator by mistake when the rest of the sentence shows that he clearly meant to say victim or defendant. The use of sic inserted into the transcript of the actual testimony can help clear up confusion later when others are reviewing the case’s written documents.

The use of sic has grown since the mid-1900s, and it can be used today as a comment about the person being quoted. Quoted material is, unsurprisingly, marked as such by the presence of quotation marks, so a reader could be expected to assume that any significant errors come from the source being quoted. A writer might place the word sic into such a quote to draw attention to those errors. Because this can be viewed as belittling toward the source quoted, some writers avoid using sic. For instance, they can paraphrase a statement rather than quoting it directly, or they can refer to the speaker’s background and let the reader put the pieces together on their own.

Whether or not sic is used in this manner, the word can be useful in distinguishing what a writer is saying from their quoted source. For example, in an article about new discoveries in King Tut’s tomb, an Egyptologist misspoke during her interview with USA Today. Her resulting quote read: “Whether we can deduct from that that we actually (sic) the burial site of Nefertiti might be a step too far. But if it was true, it would be absolutely brilliant.” Here, the writer used sic to identify a missing word in the quote.

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