Sic semper pedantis

The Baltimore Sun

Last month the Associated Press Stylebook sent out a notice of a change in the forthcoming edition: "New to Stylebook: (sic) is used to show quoted material or person's words include a misspelling, incorrect grammar, odd usage."

This is an ill-advised decision, one that I hope that publications using AP style will disregard. 

Writing at Sentence first, Stan Carey quotes Jessica Mitford: "I do not like the repeated use of sic. It seems to impart a pedantic, censorious quality to the writing."

And moreover, he says, "This ruling is unfortunately open to many interpretations and therefore much uncertainty, and it is susceptible to misinformation and misuse. The line between correct and incorrect usage is nowhere near as clear-cut as is often assumed or as style guides tend to suggest."

If you have been a regular reader of these posts, you will recall how frequently I have called attention to the AP Stylebook's fondness for bogus rules and fusty shibboleths. There is a hazard that you will employ sic to identify a usage to which no exception need be taken. 

Writing at Copyediting Mark Allen expresses concern that sic will be employed selectively for mockery.  And really, there does not seem to be much call for journalists to appear even more arrogant than they already do. 

At The Sun we have actively discouraged the use of sic in copy, because it is nearly impossible to use it without looking snotty. We don't "clean up" quotes to make speakers look better, and we quote texts as they are written. If either speech or text contains solecisms, we want our readers to understand that we are quoting accurately.



A pedantic note: Pedantis in the headline is homemade neo-Latin. The word pedant arrives in English from the French pedant and the Italian pedante, each meaning "schoolteacher." They apparently derive from the Latin paedagogare, "to teach," from which we get pedagogue in English. The Oxford English Dictionary surmises that there was an association of meanings between the Italian pedagogo and pedante, "foot soldier," "pedestrian." 


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