While researching (and I use that term loosely) parentheses for an earlier blog post, I was reminded of another, more obscure punctuation symbol—[sic]. Intrigued, I decided to check up on this.
Apparently, a lot of people don’t know the derivation of this, as many think it’s an acronym for, “spelled in context,” “said in copy,” or “spelling is incorrect,” etc. This is actually incorrect, and I was further amazed to learn that ascribing an acronym when one isn’t intended has a name, it’s a “backronym.”
“Sic” is actually Latin for “thus,” and it is a shortening of the full expression, “sic erat scriptum,” or “thus was it written.” Used properly, it indicates that a written or oral quoted passage contains a spelling or grammatical error. On the rare occasions that I’ve seen it, that’s what it was used for.
Some folks are definitely against this short punctuation. Back in 1876, a Dr. Enoch Mellor complained, in a letter to the editor of Literary Churchman, about, “the cheap insinuation of ignorance which can lie in a bracketed ‘sic.’” Others have expanded [sic]’s use, to include marking what they think are logical or factual errors, say after quoting a politician they don’t like. This ridicule is also controversial, and sometimes condemned. Simon Nowell-Smith and Leon Edel, among others, spoke out against its use in the twentieth century. I like to picture fistfights at literary parties, but alas (I guess), it mostly seems to be written criticisms. (I have to admit, now that I learned about this latter use of it for ridicule, I might start using it some, as it appeals to my snarky nature.) The Chicago Manuel of Style now recommends just quietly copy-editing away the mistake unless it’s inappropriate. So this obscure punctuation might be as endangered as the white rhino.
I also saw that there are a few other sic’s, like the regional code of
, and the (real) acronym for the Shetland Island Council. Used more relevantly to our discussion, it’s also the name of a hardcore band, and a Slipknot song. In closing, if any writer has considered being clever and using it as a book title, I’m afraid at least six other authors have beaten you to it. Martha Brockenbrough also titled her 2008 book, which mocks/corrects the grammar in advertising, politics, and Sicily Hollywood quotes, “Things That Make Us [Sic].” According to its reviews, it’s very funny.