What Does Sic Mean? — An Answer for the ESL Community

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Recently, I conducted a small survey of my non-writer friends asking: 

What is the meaning of sic in writing?

Everyone I asked knew sic in the context of: sic a dog, but to my surprise, only 2 out of my 10 friends knew sic as a Latin term, even though they had read it many times. 

I thought, “If my native English speaking friends don’t even know what it means, it would be a great topic for ESL students.” And so, here we are.

In this blog, we’re going to answer the question: What does (sic) mean in a sentence?

 

 

Sic Definition — Sic Erat Scriptum or Sic’em

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In American English, sic has two definitions:

  • A Latin adverb meaning “thus” or “just as”. It is an shortened version of the full phrase “sic erat scriptum” meaning “thus it is written
  • An English verb meaning “to chase or attack” or  “to incite an attack or pursuit”

Note: There is also the Scottish usage of the term to mean such, but we’ll focus on American usage in this article.

Latin

You’ll mainly see the Latin version of sic within quotes from news outlets, though you might also see it in research papers or nonfiction works. It’s a way of noting a grammatical error within quoted material. 

Think of the meaning of the full phrase when you see it. The writer is quoting someone’s grammatical mistake and stating, “Thus it is written.”

English

The English version of sic has a more ominous (threatening) meaning in its use. Since the nineteenth century, English speakers have used the phrase sic ’em as a command for a dog to pursue or attack someone.

The term represents a dialect interpretation of sic as a variant of “seek” in this instance, which makes sense. Over the years, this version of the term expanded to include humans as the ones doing the siccing.

Examples:

  • “If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll sic my older brother on you!”
  • “Take down the video, or we’re going to sic our legal team on you.”

How to Document Sic in a Text

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If you want to quote something that has a grammatical error in your writing, you can use sic to denote the mistake. To document the error, place sic within brackets or parenthesis just after the error. Some publications allow sic to be written in italics as well.

Example:

  • “I didn’t know he made deposit [sic] at the bank.”

However, especially as an ESL student, be absolutely sure that the mistake you’re pointing out is a mistake. Differences in regional spelling (British vs American) are not cause to mark something with sic. 

Even if you’re sure something is a mistake, take the time to check it again.

Also, take the time to consider that you’re pointing out someone else’s error when you use sic,  and some (including the writer) may view it as impolite. Even the Chicago Style Manual recommends using brackets to edit a mistake instead of using sic.

Example:

  • “I didn’t know he made deposit at the bank.”
  • “I didn’t know he made deposit[s] at the bank.”

Either way, if you don’t correct a quote or use sic, your readers may think it was you who made the error. Ultimately, it will be up to you (or your editor) to use good grammatical judgement on how you want to deal with quoting someone else’s mistake. 

But if you choose sic, you’re in good company as seen from the examples below:

  • In an Instagram post, Mixon called said it was the “best Christmas gift ever especially growing up not ever having nothing [sic].” – ESPN
  • “Beautiful Bougets [sic] of flowers from children, so many great conversations with family, grandchildren and friends…” she wrote. – ABC (Good Morning America)
  • “Please Disneyworld Disneyland PLEASE build in Chadwick Boseman’s name WAKONDA (Sic).” – CNN

Now you’re well versed on the question: What does sic mean? Do you have an opinion on using sic in an article or research paper? Leave a comment below!

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