The following direct quotes from recent articles – one about an inscription in Abraham Lincoln’s watch; the second, a statement from a gospel singer accused of assaulting his ex-wife; and the third, words from a former politician – have nothing in common, except as examples of the use of the parenthetical “sic.”

"Jonathan Dillon April 13 - 1861," part of the inscription reads, "Fort Sumpter (sic) was attacked by the rebels on the above date." Another part reads, "Thank God we have a government."

"To be accused of these allegations, which arose out of a child custody right [sic] dispute and my desire to spend time with our children as court ordered, is nothing less than heart wrenching."

Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum recently declared, "I really do believe that the fundamentals of American economy is [sic] still strong."

The insertion of “sic” is a journalism tool, and one I’ve found is rarely understood, so I thought I’d take a moment to enlighten.

The term “sic” is Latin for “thus” and is inserted into direct quotes to indicate the error preceding it is not that of the article writer, typesetter or copy editor.

In the examples, the correct words, of course, would have been “Fort Sumter,” “custody rights” and the verb “are” instead of “is.” The iron-clad rule is: direct quotes must not be altered, despite obvious errors.

BJ writes, “Have a good weak (sic).”


airth10 said...

BJ, Thanks for that lesson. Just what I needed.

I am glad you introduced me to this 'iron clad' rule because I was thinking of 'first principles'. Why I was thinking of first principles is because I was thinking about the difference between the doctrines of 'metaphysics' and 'pragmatism'. Metaphysics deals with iron clad rules, first principles and absolutes. Pragmatism allows for more flexibility. For example, metaphysics would say "it is written", whereas pragmatism would say "it isn't necessarily written".

With your example perhaps the pragmatic way would be to correct the quote and dispense with formality.

B.J. said...

Interesting comment, Airth. In the case of the first two statements, they were quoted from written material. As for the Rick Santorum quote: well, sometimes it’s nice to show someone’s ignorance, LOL. At any rate, the best rule is to stick with the direct quote. Another iron-clad rule of journalism is “when in doubt, leave it out.” If uncertain of the absolute quote, the writer can paraphrase and omit the quotation marks.

In college I wrote a series of articles on potential nuclear waste repositories in the salt domes of southern Mississippi. A great deal of research went into the articles. I traveled to another town to attend a Department of Energy hearing with local citizens. One old man stood up and gave an impassioned plea for the safety of his turnip greens and well water. I argued that to quote him directly was essential to give the article local “color” and express the general feeling of the gathered citizenry. Dr. Wiggins said, “No, because it makes the man look ignorant.” He won (of course).

Wiggins told me that as a rookie reporter he went out to interview people after a devastating tornado. He drove up to one house where an old man was sitting on his porch. Across the road from the man’s home and in both directions as far as the eyes could see, there had been total devastation. The man had sat on his porch, watching houses, cars, barns and cows fly through the air. When Wiggins queried, the old man said, “I was sittin’ here, and I yelled back inside to the wife, ‘Emma, they’re having some bad weather over yonder.’ “ Wiggins said it was everything he could do to keep from laughing, and he did not use the quote. He was not there, he said, to make the man look foolish. Point taken.

I had one editor who was guilty of “over-attribution.” Editing one of his articles, I ran across this quote, “ ‘There is a red light at the corner of Fourth and Main,’ the mayor said.“ “Jim,” I said, “I want you to get in your car and drive to Fourth and Main and come back and let me know if there is a red light there. It is there. And, it’s not necessary to attribute that to the mayor.”

-30- BJ

Reporters used to mark the end of their copy with -30-, which was the signature of a reporter whose name actually was “Thirty.”

Frodo Organicus said...

You mean it wouldn't impact the turnip greens and the well-water?

B.J. said...

Frodo, I was very insistent about using a DIRECT QUOTE from the old man as I thought his words were from the “collective heart” of the local citizenry. But, Wiggins red-penned it. As I explained, compared to direct quotes from the state Game and Fish Commission, The Department of Energy (DOE), the Sierra Club, etc., it might have appeared that I (the reporter) was just trying to make the locals look like buffoons. That was not my purpose at all. I made EACH position clear enough, and, by the way, won a Sigma Delta Chi award for investigative reporting in the process. Not bad for a Mississipppi buffoon, huh?

The thing is: that was 30 years ago, and we just keep on producing the stuff (most of it from hospitals), but nobody wants to deal with storing it safely. You know, “Not in my backyard.” At the time, most nuclear waste was stored above ground – in South Carolina in an area about the size of a tennis court.

Where is it now? I don’t know. Does anyone else?


Gregg Sutton said...

Well, you learn something new every day. Interesting comments. As for the Cheney article, I'd like to get a chance to punch him out.

Frodo, always leave 'em laughin' said...

Frodo never did think much of turnip greens. Think they could try some of that stuff on brussel sprouts?

Falzone for Mrs. B.J. Trotter said...

I want to thank you for the examination. You gave me a great compliment once in saying that I express myself very well. That was one of the best compliments I had ever had. I am really very limited in my understanding and knowledge of the English language as it pertains to properly written English. I know something more today about it than I did yesterday thanks to you B.J.

I have never acquired a taste for Turnip Greens either. Brussel Sprouts can be very good, however, if they are cooked properly and smothered in butter, not radioactive waste.

The Red Cross has determined that America IS guilty of War Crimes involving torture. Let the prosecutions proceed!

B.J. said...

Ah, Mr. Falzone, nice words. I like turnip greens and Brussel sprouts! I plan to link to the Red Cross findings in the morning. Crucial report!

airth10 said...

I wonder if the nuclear industry has tried using vegetables as a way to neutralize nuclear waste, burying it under mounds of vegetables. Perhaps it would work.

B.J. said...

LOL! Two things, in my estimation, are inedible: chitterlings and cantaloupes. (Do Canadians know what chitterlings are?) How ‘bout a compost of those?

Seriously, I read a magazine article years ago that water hyacinths are being used to eat oil and pollution in fresh water ponds, lakes and rivers. They clean the water! So, maybe you are on to something, Airth!