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Grammar 101: What Does [Sic] Mean?

June 11th, 2009 by

What does [sic] mean?

As you go through online articles, magazine editorials, and news reports, you may encounter the use of the word sic. It is typically italicized and enclosed in square brackets like this — [sic] — but what exactly does it mean? Should you be paying any attention to this notation or should you just skim right past it?

It’s debatable how much weight you should be placing on “sic,” but you should at least know what it means. It is a Latin word that roughly translates to “in such a manner” or “as such.” That’s not really how we use it today, however.

Instead, you’ll find that when writers are quoting the work or words of other people, they’ll insert [sic] to indicate that the quote has been reproduced verbatim. Typically, the quote will contain an incorrect or strange spelling of some kind and the writer wants to preserve that without it appearing to be a typo on their part.

If you were to pronounce “sic” in Latin, it would sound closer to the English word “seek.” These days, we tend to anglicize the term to sound closer to the English word “sick.”

In terms of usage, [sic] is generally used to preserve an incorrect spelling, but it can also be used to preserve an inaccuracy in a quote as well. Here are a couple of examples from President George W. Bush:

“We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a nation [sic] that suffers from incredible disease.”

“I hear there’s rumors on the Internets [sic] that we’re going to have a draft.”

As you may be able to tell from these so-called Bushisms, the use of [sic] is oftentimes meant to be humorous or even scathing in nature. It can be meant to poke fun at the person being quoted, but it may also be used in legal documents where accuracy is a must.

Do you have a suggestion for a future edition of Grammar 101? Let me know through the comment form below.

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37 Responses to “Grammar 101: What Does [Sic] Mean?”

  1. Great article. I have a suggestion. Tell me if you’ve done this already, but “The Difference Between Then and Than”. I’m tired of people using “then” to compare two things. It’s THAN! Than! More THAN! Sorry, I just get a little heated about these things. :)

      • Kaisu says:

        This is a great site…although I was surprised that on a grammar site there would be bickering! Also, as relates to then and than, I know it’s than, but I hear so many people using the objective pronoun as in: Billy is taller than her. Isn’t it ALWAYS followed by the subjective???? Billy is taller than she (is)…..or should I have use the sic sign there???? lol

    • Esther Tendai says:

      I agree with you. What’s more revolting is people constantly mixing up “were” and “we”… Where is this world leading us??? “Were” should be used when talking about what was taking place and “we” talking about “us”, a couple or more (sic) ;-)

    • Todd says:

      Then has to do with chronology. As in, “We will go to the store and then the gas station.”

      Than has to do with amounts. As in, “I have more than you do.”

      The easiest way to remember is how you say the than in “Greater than” and “less than”. Just try to pronounce the long “A” sound and you can remember which one is which.

  2. Funny. I always thought it was an acronym that meant “Spelling Intentionally Correct,” meaning, it’s the exact spelling used by the person quoted — as you explained in your article, Michael.

  3. Ray Ebersole says:

    It’s interesting that someone would want to use [sic] because they wanted to show that they didn’t make a spelling error, but were quoting verbatim. I would think that most people with common sense would understand that the quote is a quote and the spelling is from the author of the quote, not the writer of the article.

    Of course when did common sense matter anymore.

    • tony says:

      Even quotes can be misspelled. The writer (typer) just wants to know he/she didn’t make the error. Common Sense.

    • Harsh says:

      You mean to say that if the writer of the article makes a spelling mistake, we should automatically still assume it was from the author of the quote? I dont understand how its possible for most people with common sense to automatically know who made the error,the author or the writer because common sense tells me both are fairly common

    • Janey says:

      Well, the simplest way to quote verbatim is to use “quotation marks”.
      I would not think it’s quote, I would think the person either has a grammar or spelling issue.

  4. betshopboy says:

    Now that we know the meaning of [sic] and when to use, my question is where to place it approriately?

    Should the placement be within the quote itself, right after the inaccuracy (as shown in your examples)?

    Or should it be placed after the quoted sentence or phrase finishes?

  5. Angie says:

    Interesting. I was unaware of this until now. Thank you for this post. Some emails and webpages out there, if copied as examples, would be riddled with [sic][sic][sic][sic]!
    That’s just sick!

  6. Robert says:

    Bushism:?
    Is that like an Obamaism?
    EX: Qquote, “There are 57 [sic] states.”

  7. bmac says:

    sickening….

  8. Gabrielle says:

    Maybe you should get rid of the Bush commentary if you would like more credibility for yourself. Or at least balance it out with another example from the left, as Robert pointed out. Instead of somebody who is really trying to teach the world something, you just come across as one more person who uses Web 2.0 as a vehicle for his/her own armchair political commentary. I would have been happy to use your page as a reference source, but until you remove your biased examples, I will refrain from coming back here. I hope this comment was 100% grammatically correct as I wouldn’t want you ridiculing me in the same way.

    • Michael Kwan says:

      The mention was not meant to be interpreted as political commentary and I’m sorry that you feel the way that you do. I used the term “Bushism” as it has become a part of the common vernacular for those circumstances, which is why I preface the term with “so-called,” allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.

  9. Gabrielle says:

    By the way, Michael…you may have impeccable grammar but you haven’t been taught the rules of propriety, including those dealing with the internet.

    • Ray Ebersole says:

      Honestly Gabrielle you should just go away. You have no clue about Michael’s writing from one post, nor his internet presence. Spend a little time here before making comments that are so off the wall and show your ignorance of the facts.

    • Angela Hall says:

      Thank you Gabrielle.

  10. Bill J says:

    Your quoted quotes were unattributed but the second “Bushism” deserves another sic if there are to be any at all:

    “I hear there’s [sic]rumors on the Internets [sic] that we’re going to have a draft.”

  11. harshada says:

    Excellent explanation. The best I’ve read so far for the term [sic].
    Thank you.

  12. Particular shade of Pink says:

    anglacize (sic)

    It is ‘anglicize’.

  13. Becky says:

    Thank you! I’ve wondered about this for a long time. :)

  14. People are used to making so many grammatical mistakes specially in the US. Like using ‘so and therefore’ together.
    Even on some news channels they say “thanks very much” though noun doesn’t go with adverb. Here ‘thanks’ is being used as a noun and not as a verb and cannot be qualified by an adverb. US English has toppled real English over its head.

  15. Kathy Richardson says:

    I’m editing letters written during the civil war for a genealogical quarterly. Because of all the incorrect spellings, the transcriber added (sic) so many times that it’s distracting. Is it enough to say that the text is being reproduced as it was written, and leave it at that?

  16. Kathy Richardson says:

    Sorry for not capitalizing Civil War :)

  17. Mr. Zebus says:

    All of this is worthless drivel.

    • Augustus G McDowell says:

      This ‘sic’ expression is out of hand. It is more important in what IS “said,” than “how” IT is said. A quote is a quote, it should never be demoralized in offering discredit to the author. This is a damper on the two, the author and writer, it reflects how the writer wants to impressed the reader using the ‘fun’ word “sic.” It’s the writer, not the speaker that makes it less interesting.Do not we all sometime in talking makes blunders with the English language? It seems at best no one catches their own grammatical errors in every write up they do, but is seen and is criticized by others to make their intellectual point of view. End of subject, nothing else is intermit or needs to be said…shalom! This is my take and my one time take only.

  18. the_boss says:

    “I’ve now been to [sic]57…states, wit one left to go”

    -GB’s fault

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