What Does [SIC] Mean?

What Does [SIC] Mean?

May 03

Today we are going to talk about the meaning of [sic]. No, I didn’t just attempt to set my dog on you. I just mentioned a common writing tool that is used in different non-fiction forms of writing. This is usually seen in journalistic items, such as news articles or editorials. So you have probably seen it if you read newspapers or news websites.

But what exactly does it mean? According to the dictionary definition:

Used in brackets after a copied or quoted word that appears odd or erroneous to show that the word is quoted exactly as it stands in the original.

So, basically it is a fancy way of pointing out something that looks like a typo and saying “It wasn’t me”.

Why Is [SIC] So Important?

When you are quoting someone, you are taking a risk as a journalist. You are taking their word and providing it in a factual context. Sometimes these comments will match up to what you yourself think, and something it won’t. In the end, the statement itself will be given context by the rest of the story.

But when there is something that appears to be erroneous on a basic grammatical level, whether that is a misspelling or a misused word, it can be more tricky. Obviously, the journalist will want to convey that this was not an error in transcription, but in the quote itself.

Writing out an explanation in parenthesis would be a ridiculous waste of time and space. Not to mention, it looks tacky and unprofessional. You should only write out an explanation if there are provable facts being disputed, not a slight grammar issue.

This is where it is very handy to have [sic] available, as it is a quick way of telling the reader that, hey, there is a mistake here, but I didn’t make it.

It is also important in this context because it shows the integrity of the journalist. You are pointing out that you have provided the quote exactly as it was originally given, and did not make any changes to suit yourself or your story.

Using [SIC] Correctly

You usually won’t have to use [sic]. People are often careful when they provide quotes, and so it will be fine as-is the majority of the time. But when you do have to use it, it will be due to spelling mistakes or misused words. For example:

“We have been working to establish a more harmoneus [sic] environment for our employees.”

or

“We truly believe our prize-winning race horse is unpassable [sic].”

The only other time you use it will be a matter of your discretion. If something doesn’t sound or look quite right, and you want to show that it is how they presented the quote to you, it is acceptable to use [sic].

“I felt that it was a opportunity [sic] I couldn’t pass up.”

That is all there is to it! As far as language devices go, [sic] is a great one that can give you a lot of help with very little effort.

1 comment

  1. Doug

    Thank you for clearing up the matter of, the way (sic) is used in news articles all the time. I keep up with the news online, and see it all the time, and wonder what it means. I’m glad I took the time to look it up on your site. It’s been almost 30 years since I was in college, and I had a lot of writing classes, but we find’ t use that at the time. My daughter just started college, and now I can pass on a little wisdom to her, now that I know what it means. Do you know when this came into use on a regular basis? Thank you, and your site for clearing up this mystery for me. There is always knowledge to be gained, even by us old guys. Thanks again!
    Doug R.

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