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How often does somebody read something or other that is dressed like the proverbial Christmas goose to be what it is not? One of the most annoying habits is use of the bracketed sic, thus (sic), for no apparent reason other than to look clever. Far too many people do not at all know what sic means. Sometimes it appears to me that the author of a piece of writing might understand it to mean ‘sick’ in a rather absurd manner.

It is a Latin adverb that means ‘thus’ or other slightly variant meanings such as ‘accordingly’ but in full it is used as a shortened version of sic erat scriptum, which translated is ‘thus was it written’ used in brackets after a copied or quoted word or expression that appears out of place or erroneous in order to show that it is quoted exactly as it is in the original. That is to say, (sic) should be inserted after a quoted word, phrase or passage to indicate that what is quoted has been transcribed exactly as it is in the source. 

Typically it is therefore used to inform the reader that any apparent errors in quoted material do not arise from mistakes made when transcribing, but are deliberately reproduced, precisely as they appear in that source. It is also quite often put in derisively or sarcastically, to draw attention to the original author’s spelling mistakes or erroneous logic, similarly to show broad disapproval or distaste for what the author is saying. So, in effect, it is meant to show up that which is assumed by the person inserting it to be mistaken, outmoded, irregular spelling, punctuation or grammar. In other words one might simply say it applies to any surprising assertion, flawed reasoning or almost anything else that could be interpreted as an error of transcription of somebody else’s writings, but not one’s own unless that of a pedantic revisionist who strives, often foolhardily, to improve their own standing work. It is correctly used within square brackets to show that it is not part of the quoted text. So, whereas I used round brackets above, I too was incorrect, it should be [sic] and classically has appeared thus, [sic], italicised in square brackets, but not the brackets italicised.

Well that was fun, wasn’t it? So, why is it erroneously used to the point of being disabused by so many people? Some readers may now think I am being sophistic. Sophistry is also a mistaken concept though; pedantry is probably a better expression because pedantic people suffer a deficiency of knowledge that demands often very boring literalism in which to seek answers to sometimes trite questions rather than sophistically lacking imagination. I do not think I am actually either, more so the case that I an enquiring mind that probably bores some people rigid. On the other hand, to be able to use wrong words, not know what words really mean but use them anyway, then obfuscate by hiding behind a bit of Latin and obscure, usually almost incomprehensible quotations, sometimes from one’s own not very good work, conceivably books but more often articles that are, one might say, creatively written but on closer inspection are simply invention without substance or, more importantly, veracity. There we go again; veracity sounds and reads so much less disingenuous than saying truth. What I have actually done is picking out a useful error to construct a repetitious and to some extent inane set of sentences. They could have been summed up in probably two sentences. However, if I wish to buy time by saying nothing that I use in such a way that it seems like something, but nobody really understands it, I come out on top. Nobody knows why. Nobody cares why. The ability to lose oneself then one’s readers is a must. If it is presented orally a few stumbled hesitations expressed as “ah” or “err err” embellish the incomprehensibility.  Throw in a couple of pointless jokes then it is a well rounded meaninglessness that may or may not contain some kind of truth or wisdom although that does not matter.

If any of this makes sense to you, has a certain appeal perhaps, then you have a great opportunity opening up before you. If you can confidently lie, obfuscate, make bad jokes, prove yourself utterly incompetent, narcissistic with the ability to speak and write with the kind of vacillating mind that needs to use pointless and often contextually meaningless words to hide those qualities then in the near, possibly extremely near, future there will be a vacancy. If you are lucky you may be able to successfully apply to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom.

Featured image by Kaboompics on Pexels.

Brian Milne
A Social anthropologist who specialises in the human rights of children. In practice Brian Milne has worked on the street with 'street children', child labour, young migrants, young people with HIV and AIDS. Brian’s work has taken him to around 40 countries, most of them developing nations; at least four of them have been in a state of conflict or war, thus taking him to the front line in two. Brian’s theoretical work began with migration; working on, written and publishing on citizenship and generally best known as an 'expert' on the human rights of children. Brian has a broad knowledge of human and civil rights for all ages, environmental issues and has been politically active most of his life. An internationalist and supporter of the principle of European federalisation.

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