understanding what sic really means

What Does Sic Mean?

by | Jun 7, 2022 | GrammarSpot, Writing Tips | 0 comments

The word sic is the Shaggy of writing. Not the Shaggy who foiled criminals with Scooby-Doo and the rest of the gang at the abandoned amusement park or the abandoned mansion or the other abandoned amusement park. I’m talking about the Shaggy who sang “It Wasn’t Me.” What does sic mean? It means you’re acknowledging that somebody else made a mistake.

What about the fact that “It Wasn’t Me” is such a tremendously bad pop song that it makes you literally sick? Well, that’s just a barfy coincidence.

what does sic mean

How To Use Sic

The word sic is a versatile tool. You can use sic in writing as a verb or as an adverb. It all depends on whether you’re quoting someone whose writing is unclear or telling your pet lizard to attack. Let’s start with the lizard attack version.

1. What Does Sic Mean in Writing?

As a verb, sic means to pursue, chase or attack. Typically, you sic someone or something (like a lizard) on someone or something else. Check out these sic examples:

  • After the deli refused to serve Green Bay Packers fans, one of those cheeseheads sicced her lawyer on them.

In this example, sic means that the Packers fan is pursuing cold-cut justice via her attorney.

  • That man stole my purse! Sic ‘em, Thunderbutt!

Here, Thunderbutt is — that’s right — a lizard being encouraged to pursue a would-be robber. #ReptileJustice

an example of sic

2. What Does Sic Mean in a Quote?

When you see sic in quotes, it’s being used an adverb. It means two things: First, the writer is acknowledging that the quoted material contains an error (such as a misspelling) or a chunk of awkward phrasing that may hinder its meaning. Second, the writer is telling you that the mistake or rough patch was left in there on purpose.

Let me show you what I mean with this sic example, bro.

  • “Look right up their [sic]!” Beth’s husband wrote. “I knew Beth couldn’t resist making a bad surfer joke.”

Here, the writer who is quoting my husband uses sic to point out that the writer knows my husband used “their” when he should have used “there.” Chew on that, Mr. Sederstrom.

use of sic

Because this type of sic involves quoted material, such as interview transcripts or other articles, you’re most likely to spot the adverb sic in journalism and other types of expository writing where it’s important to convey what someone says accurately. You may notice that homophones are a frequent target of sic, too, in part because they frequently slip past spell-checking software.

To use sic in quoted material, place it right after the error. Italicize it, and put it in brackets [ ], not parentheses ( ). This lets the reader know that it’s not part of the text being quoted.

Examples of [Sic] in Quoted Material

Below you’ll find examples of sic to give you a better feel for how to expertly deploy this tool of linguistic acknowledgement and denial. Each sentence is followed by the corrected version of the original text. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

  1. “Who’s [sic] turn is it to buy tacos?” (Whose)
  2. “Robbie didn’t let two broken legs negatively effect [sic] his experience at prom.” (affect)
  3. “Go tell every body [sic] that Godzilla was just spotted downtown!” (everybody)
  4. “It’s definitely not my turn to buy taco [sic].” (tacos)
  5. “The principle [sic] at my high school used to be a WWE wrestler.” (principal)
  6. “I just called to sat [sic], ‘I love you.’” (say)
  7. “My Finish [sic] grandmother makes a big pitcher of glögi, or mulled wine, every Christmas.” (Finnish)
  8. “Then she drnks [sic] it by herself in the garage.” (drinks)
  9. “Learning to juggle basket balls [sic] was a colossal waste of time.” (basketballs)
  10. “Let’s just say it’s Brad’s buy tacos [sic]. I’m starving.” (turn to buy the tacos)

In the simplest terms, this type of sic is the writer’s way of saying “Look, I know that’s spelled wrong, dude, but I think it’s important to present the information as originally written.”

how to use sic

Make Sure It’s Actually an Error, Though

In the internet age, there’s a greater need for sic than ever before, and I’m not just referring to that overwhelming urge we all have sometimes to sic a pack of rabid wolverines on our favorite website’s comments section.

“Text speak” and social media’s growing ubiquity have created an avalanche of abbreviations and other forms of shorthand that often require a sic in a professional or academic setting. Check out these sic examples:

  • “Thx [sic] for all of your support as I pursue my dreams of being a toll booth operator.”
  • “I left a tuna casserole for u [sic] in the microwave, darling.”

That said, it’s important not to go overboard with sic. At the barest of minimums, you should always verify that what you’re indicating is an error with sic actually is an error. If a quote includes the same error multiple times, you don’t need to use sic after each instance, either.

You should also avoid immediately pegging every instance of nontraditional usage as an error. A typo is a typo, but in some cases, context matters. The boundaries of standard English are always changing, and this is a good — dare I say exciting — thing. Anybody that tells you otherwise is full of baloney, and they probably believe other grammar myths. Repeatedly labeling other dialects or similar syntactical differences as “wrong” can send a pretty nasty message.

In short, if the writer’s meaning or intent is muddied because of an error, sic your sic on it so your readers will understand the point. Otherwise, chill out. Or, if you’re really not sure what to do, just don’t directly quote that passage. Paraphrase it instead.

Let’s Recap: How to Use Sic

What does sic mean in an article? When used verb-style, it means somebody better look alive because they’re about to get chased by a lizard. As an adverb, sic is a valuable method of both preserving an original source and proving that you paid attention in English class. Do you have any sick tips for how to use sic? Do you think I’m being too hard on Shaggy? And whatever happened to RikRok? Sic your comments on this blog below!

Beth Sederstrom
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