Sic ’em

Like a Storm Shadow cruise missile raining down on the Bab al-Azizya, the [sic] is a deadly weapon and one best wielded with precision. The DLR, even with its handy anonymity, has never dared to [sic] anyone, and hopes it never shall. It’s an uppity, arrogant sort of put-down — amazing when you get it right, a little Jeremy Paxman twattish when you get it wrong.

Sic comes from the Latin for ‘so’, and it is used to mark an error in quoted text — it says, effectively, that this is the error of the doofus who wrote this, not something missed by my impeccable editorial eye.

We greatly enjoyed Stefan Collini’s clarifying analysis of the government’s terrible universities policy (a few weeks ago in the London Review of Books), but thought this [sic] was perhaps a bit too Ivory Tower:

“Or again: ‘empowering’ students by loading high levels of debt onto them will stimulate ‘competition between [sic] the best academics’.”

(Though in an article proving that the current education system is working, we suppose you can’t be too careful.) Collini is quoting from the government’s White Paper for Higher Education, and the error he’s calling up is the use of “between” for more than two parties (it should be “among”). That’s a rule we think is declining — as is, sadly, the singular with none (none of the Conservatives has a heart) and the possessive with the gerund (the -ing form of the verb — Cameron’s coming into politics was a bad day for us all). If we didn’t hold the LRB in such high esteem, last week’s smugness dig notwithstanding, we’d search the reputable review for misuses of that very same preposition (that, and we do have a life. Or at least a job).

[Sic] is great with celebrities though — just a cheery little turn of the knife, like this one about celebrity sponsor futz-ups:

“Tailspinning N-Dubz Dappy went off-brand as ambassador for the government-backed anti-bullying charity Beatbullying when he responded to a criticism of his ‘silly hat‘ from a Radio 1 listener with: ‘Your [sic] gonna die.’ Beatbullying felt that texting death threats to lone parents was not the image it was trying to project and Daps had to find a new outlet for his charitable instincts.”

We don’t know who N-Dubz Dappy is either but he sounds like a children’s potty-training character gone wrong.

Sometimes, people try to [sic] outdated modes of thinking, in particular sexism, which has been enshrined in our language due to our use of the pronoun “he”  for “one”. “When someone enters the room, the first thing he thinks is, ‘My god, this person has thought about grammar for far too long.'” Many magazines and journals now correct this to “he or she”: “When someone enters the room, the first thing he or she thinks is, ‘I’m glad this has been degenderised!'” And so some writers correct the original usage to show that he (or she) disagrees with the sole use of the male pronoun: “He [sic] who laughs last, laughs longest.” While the DLR applauds attempts to make society more equal (hey, why not? It’s 2011!), it has to rule this out based on basic common sense. Once [sic] is no longer used just for grammar, it could be applied to everything! Quel anarchy! “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [sic] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator [sic — not so keen on god] with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty [sic — living in post-riot Hackney, not so keen on liberty] and the pursuit of happiness.” That’s craziness for which we will not stand!

But we did love this use of [sic], which reminded us of the funniest Saturday Night Live sketch in years (possibly only funny to non-British natives). America, apparently, has so little respect for the language of its elder counterparts that saying something in British English is the same as being grammatically incorrect. From The New York Times:

“The match between Mr. McMillan [outlier NY gubernatorial candidate] and the hyperbolic, hypercaffeinated site [] appears to be a good one. ‘BidHere is a unique online penny auction,’ the site explains, where electronics and jewelery are sold for prices ‘that can only be described as totally mad.’ It’s something like a cross between eBay and QVC, the shopping channel, and displays little attention to details like spelling or diction. ‘We are an organisation committed to bringing the latest and most expensive brands to you, whilst  [Sic. Very sic. Or British.] also making it a fun and enjoyable experience.'”

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1 Response to Sic ’em

  1. In your last but two paragraph, some knowledge of French is intimated by the word ‘quel’, however that word preceeds the other ‘anarchy’ which in French is … feminine! You may ‘sic’ this too if you must, but overall much enjoyed reading your piece. Thank you.

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