When quoting the direct comments of another person, writers can shelter under the protective shade of the word sic.
The Latin word meaning “so, thus” can protect a writer against finger-pointing ridicule from readers when a quote contains comments which are dubious, stupid or plainly inaccurate.
The insertion of sic clearly says, “don’t blame me, I’m just reporting what was said”.
It’s often inserted if someone has submitted text with a spelling mistake or said something that could convey misunderstanding of the meaning of a word.
A priceless example was in a speech delivered by then Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, at a campaign launch in Melbourne in 2013.
It was an epic, undeniable gaffe. But news journalists, not wanting to be held responsible, could rightly call on their ‘don’t blame me’ card in their reporting.
“No one, however smart, however well-educated, however experienced…is the suppository [sic] of all wisdom,” said Tony Abbott.
We’re pretty sure he meant ‘repository’ – being a place where things are stored. But once said, and captured by the cameras, such a clanger could not be unsaid.
‘Why not just make the correction?’ I hear you ask. If you’re quoting someone, it’s expected you’ll transcribe it exactly as it appeared in the original (or was spoken in the speech).
Sometimes you might want to let unusual usage go through to the keeper – or otherwise risk being seen as a smarty-pants. You might want to correct simple spelling mistakes, or incorrect word selection (such as ‘there’ and ‘their’ or ‘insure’ and ‘ensure’).
Or to avoid embarrassment for the source, it might be easier for you to paraphrase a section of speech without using quotation marks. Correction made, intention conveyed and face saved.
But if there’s a chance the howls of doubt will be directed at you (the writer) in how you’re representing quoted speech, then cover yourself by using sic.
Note: when using sic, it should appear bracketed (usually square brackets) after the offending word. It is commonly italicised, but is increasingly appearing without italics in Australian style guides. Sic is a word in itself and should not be punctuated with any full stops.