We’ve all seen “[sic],” and most of us have probably used it. This little word in brackets is, of course, a way to show that a quotation is presented as-is and that any typos, grammatical errors, or other problems are in the original, and are not the result of defective copying.
Out of curiosity, I looked the word up and discovered, to no surprise, that it’s Latin. It means “so” or “thus.”
In the age of the internet, sic occasionally gets used in a snarky fashion. I once read an entertaining essay in which a writer vehemently criticized another, quoted him frequently, and presented sic with every quotation as a passive-aggressive way of announcing that he considered the one he was quoting to be an idiot.
Urban Dictionary specifically points out this abuse of sic, quoting from Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves, “Book reviewers in particular adore to use sic. It makes them feel terrific, because what it means is that they’ve spotted this apparent mistake, thank you, so there is no point in writing in.”
In informally published internet writing, such an abuse of sic can be amusing, but in more official sources, it is obnoxious. I was aghast when I typed “What does sic mean?” into Google and got the following from Google’s built-in dictionary thingy:
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, as in a story must hold a child’s interest and “enrich his [ sic ] life.”.
Whoever wrote this definition went out of his way to correct [sic] something that is not an error. “A story must hold a child’s interest and enrich his life” is a grammatically correct sentence. In English, the masculine pronoun is used when the sex of the antecedent is unknown.
This is one small example of the magical thinking that afflicts our age, the belief that one can change reality by manipulating words. Some effeminate, lisping, limp-wristed, low-T weenie actually felt the need, even when engaged in an activity as necessary, unassuming, and (usually) wholesome as writing the dictionary, to signal his virtue by screwing with the language. The wiener who wrote this went out of his way to find an example for this definition that he could politically correct instead of actually correct, and he thereby rendered the definition false.
And that’s just sic and wrong.