I've got an upcoming work in which I quote a couple sentences from a scholar's book. There's an unambiguous typo in it; the author just switched a few words around.

Do I really have to quote him verbatim, adding "sic" to point out the error? Or can I just "quote" him, with the typo fixed?

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    – eykanal
    Aug 14 '17 at 13:00
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    It should also be noted on top of the answers provided that the typo might actually be intentional. It could be an unknown slang, it could be short hand for something, I have always been taught that direct quotes are needed to be kept that way or else it is not a direct quote but paraphrasing. You can choose to paraphrase and write what you think is the correct spelling, but direct quotes need to be kept that way for quote integrity.
    – ggiaquin16
    Aug 14 '17 at 23:07

13 Answers 13


Academics are old-fashioned people who care about things like truth, facts, and accuracy. By making sure that everything you write between quotation marks is what the person you quote actually wrote (with "[sic]" inserted as appropriate), you will contribute your small share to perpetuating these values, which, although temporarily out of fashion these days in some parts, have served humanity well and will continue to do so in the future.

It may seem silly to resist the urge to make a correction when it's just a typo, but it's a good way to get yourself and others into the habit of speaking truthfully and accurately. So please write "sic" rather than correct the quote. Silly as it may be, in a small way it makes the world a better place.

  • 92
    +1. Keeping the precise original wording allows readers to find the location by searching in the source (if the source has been scanned and OCRed). Aug 7 '17 at 22:55
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    And if you absolutely have to correct the quote (which I can't really think of when, but not doubt in some article on some topic in some field somewhere it might be appropriate), you should make it perfectly clear that you have done so and also will probably need to give ample justification for it. Aug 7 '17 at 23:08
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    @guifa Considering how common it is to disclose something as minor as adding emphasis to a quote ("emphasis mine"), actually changing the explicit lettering should never go unremarked.
    – Arthur
    Aug 8 '17 at 10:21
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    @kapep it just means "as such", which should be used when something doesn't match the expectation, so that the readers understands it wasn't an error/unexpected introduced by the paper's author, rather in the cited matetial. If I'm quoting from old books with different orthography, I don't need to mark with [sic] if I can safely presume my reader understands orthography changes, and it shouldn't surprise. But if a medieval author mentions he went to the center of Spain to visit Málaga, I should probably mark it as [sic] if I'm not otherwise going to discuss it. Aug 8 '17 at 10:37
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    ... However AFAIK currently the strongly dominant convention is that if you put text in quotes you attribute the precise content of the text (except the "sic" if you added one, or other minor corrections in square brackets as suggested in another answer) to the source. So I still maintain that typos should not be corrected without some form of explanation. Whether you use "sic" or some other explanatory method is less important.
    – Dan Romik
    Aug 8 '17 at 14:14

It is not particularly helpful to reproduce an obvious typo in a quote, but equally you should not deliberately mislead the reader about the original source. One solution to this is to correct the typo, but put the corrected word in square brackets to indicate that it doesn't appear exactly as in the source. This is standard practice when making a minor change to quoted material for other reasons.

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    Yes: putting a fix in square brackets more-or-less declares that you have made an adjustment to the quote which you believe does not change the sense. Readers would know that that could imply anything from collapsing separate sentences to repunctuating or typo-fixing, and they know where to go to check, if they feel it matters. Aug 8 '17 at 9:34
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    This is a relatively good solution, as readers should be familiar with the practice of changing tenses, capitalization, etc, by way of brackets to have quotes flow better. Aug 8 '17 at 10:39
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    How would one apply this solution to omitted words—say, omitting the doubled 'the' from "We are going to do the the following"?
    – LSpice
    Aug 13 '17 at 10:40
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    @LSpice there are two options: either [...], which indicates omitted material, but would typically be more significant than this case, or [], which is (more rarely) used for an insignificant amount of omitted material, for example where a word has been changed by omitting an ending. I'm not sure which I prefer in this instance. Aug 13 '17 at 12:11
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    @LSpice, "We are going to do [the] following."
    – Wildcard
    Aug 14 '17 at 0:01

You don't have to [sic], but you do have to indicate where your quote deviates from the original. The normal way to do this is with square brackets, e.g. "He walk[ed] from the bedroom to the shore", so that the reader knows that you have changed the original.

Changing a quote without indicating that you have done so is misrepresentation of the original.

  • 12
    Yes - [sic] implies some kind of condemnation for sloppiness and shold be avoided outside the most absolutely formal of circumstances, and even then, think twice and find other ways. A few [square-bracketed words] simply implies that those words were paraphrased for clarity, and is the best way to handle typos, irrelevant tangents, and other problems in otherwise-quotable material. Aug 10 '17 at 1:10
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    "but you do [have] to indicate"? Aug 10 '17 at 14:56
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    @Mr.Mindor You note that there the square brackets were in the original after the quote Aug 10 '17 at 17:55
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    @DewiMorgan IME [sic] implies condemnation for sloppiness when applied to a contemporary quotation, but not so when applied to a quotation from a very old source which uses archaic spelling or grammar rules. Aug 10 '17 at 22:25
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    "[sic]" doesn't imply condemnation. That might be inferred, but that's not its purpose and not what it means. It's a very simple method of conveying to the reader that you did not make a mistake when quoting the source / the quote is accurate. That said, I do agree that other square-bracketed words are a good way of indicating paraphrasing (when the quote was the wrong verb tense your your use, etc.). Aug 13 '17 at 19:34

A dissenting view from the other answers: Yes, it is fine to silently correct obvious typos that do not affect the subject matter. But only when you are 100% confident that they really are just trivial typos, e.g. correcting theroem to theorem; see below for more on this point.

In non-academic contexts, this is pretty much universal practice. The Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, says:

Obvious typographic errors may be corrected silently (without comment or sic) unless the passage quoted is from an older work or a manuscript source where idiosyncrasies of spelling are generally preserved.

and I do not know any major style guide that differs from this.

In an academic setting, you should certainly be extremely cautious in judging what’s really a typo, as comments on the question point out. However, you should usually be well-qualified to judge this, as an academic in a field closely related to that of the writers you’re quoting.

So I see no positive reason to treat the academic case differently from the non-academic. Scientific accuracy and clarity is paramount; literal typographical fidelity is no more important in academia than in most other fields.

Meanwhile, all the negatives of replicating the typo still apply. Leaving it in without a “[sic]” is distracting to the reader, and also makes it unclear whether the typo is due to you or the original authors. Adding a “[sic]” is even more distracting to the reader, is a bit harsh towards the original authors (drawing attention to a trivial mistake they made), and may be read as intentionally disrespectful to them.

What is an obvious typo? General-purpose style guides give guidelines like something which you are absolutely confident the author would have corrected, had they noticed it; and which can’t be read in any other way than the corrected way. This principle still seems completely appropriate in academic settings, with the caveats that academic writing is particularly likely to include unusual terminology or deliberately-chosen subtleties of wording, and (again) of erring on the side of caution, since accuracy is critical.

A few examples and suggestions how to handle them:

  • Andrew Wiles’ famous profo of Fermat’s last theorem…

    Check that profo is not a technical or facetious term that the author is using elsewhere in the text, or that appears in other literature. Having ascertained that, correct profo → proof.

  • Andrerw Wiles’ famous proof of Fermat’s last theorem…

    Check that there is not some mathematician called Andrerw Wiles who gave another proof of FLT. Having ascertained that, correct Andrerw → Andrew.

  • Andrew Wiles’ famous proof of Fermats last theorem…

    Check that the author is not deliberately using non-standard punctuation elsewhere in the text. Having ascertained that, correct Fermats → Fermat’s.

  • Andrew Wiles’ famous proof of Fermat’s little theorem…

    Do not correct. This is almost certainly a typo — “Fermat’s little theorem” does exist, but Wiles’ famous proof is of the last not the little — but it affects the subject matter non-trivially, in that the incorrect reading still makes sense.

  • Andrew Wiles’ proof famous of Fermat’s last theorem…

    Do not correct. This is most likely either an editing typo or a simple non-native speaker mistake; but it is conceivable that an author chose this wording deliberately.

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    Do you know "chinese whispers"? That all people try to pass around the message and the result is that the end product does not even resemble the original? If people try to fix "obvious" errors, you have no control what will happen to the text over time until the original meaning gets lost. It's not about style, "distraction", "convenience" or politeness, it's exactly about scientific accuracy. Imagine that a reader without mathematical background replaces a cross product with a dot because it's "obvious" what it meant. With this attitude people cannot trust your quotes anymore. Aug 8 '17 at 8:41
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    @ThorstenS.: You’re depicting a slippery slope coming from much sloppier practices than what I’m suggesting. I agree, if people repeatedly copied their quotes from other quotes instead of from the original, and “corrected” quotes which they did not have the academic competence to judge, then that would lead to big problems. But I explicitly addressed the latter point in my answer, and the former is a separate piece of bad practice all of its own.
    – PLL
    Aug 8 '17 at 8:53
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    If you're going to fix it, make it clear that you've fixed it. "Silent corrections" are a combination of the worst aspects of several resolutions, with none of the best aspects to mitigate. And if you're going to differentiate quoteblocks in an answer, use quoteblocks for it!!
    – Nij
    Aug 8 '17 at 10:37
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    I disagree with your analysis of the last example. It's not conceivable that the author made a well-informed choice to use that faulty word ordering. But you can't correct it because it's unclear whether the author meant to "famous" to describe Wiles's proof or Fermat's theorem or both, and any correction would have to take a stand on that. Aug 8 '17 at 13:21
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    @ThorstenS. Off-topic, but I've never heard "Chinese whispers"--that game is generally called "telephone" in my neck of the woods (upper Midwest). I suspect "telephone" is the safer term in most of the academic US.
    – 1006a
    Aug 8 '17 at 16:35

I agree with Dan Romik's suggestion to preserve the exactness of the original quote in some form and would advise against just rewriting the quote to what you think it should be, regardless of how obvious the author's intent seems to you.

However, I would advise caution when using a single quote supplemented with [sic] because it is often used in a derisive way. Some writers choose to use [sic] to make explicitly obvious that the person being quoted is incompetent and incapable of properly expressing their argument (say, for example, news articles expressing dissatisfaction with certain tweets from certain presidents...), and that doesn't seem to be your intention here.

In addition, if this is the only direct quote from the book, you might be falsely representing the work by only providing one snippet that's loaded with typos if the rest of the work is written well. Maybe you could find another direct quote from the same work that expresses the same idea?

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    -1 for irrelevant political diatribes. Whether or not a "sic" means "god, what a retard" or "this mistake appeared in the original" is, basically, your interpretation, which you're then projecting onto the person quoting the text. Also, why do you assume that pointing out one mistake in one quote from a book is tantamount to suggesting that the whole book is full of errors? That doesn't seem at all rational. Aug 8 '17 at 13:29
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    @DavidRicherby You're right, it's not at all rational and it's down to interpretation. But if it's a strong enough correlation for the Washington Post and New York Times to make, it's reasonable to expect that kind of behavior from at least some of your readers. Aug 8 '17 at 15:07
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    Sorry, what are you claiming that the Post and the Times are correlating with what? Aug 8 '17 at 15:29
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    @DavidRicherby I think GGMG is hinting at his/her belief that the NYTimes and WaPost are unfairly trying to make the president look less smart than he is by quoting him.
    – Dan Romik
    Aug 8 '17 at 20:25
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    "Make Academia Great Again [sic]". Aug 8 '17 at 21:40

A quote isn't a quote if you change it. Everyone knows what sic means or can easily find out.


There were trhee others.

You could write:

Prof. Shakespeare expressed the opinion that "there were [three] others".

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    This adds nothing to answers that were posted earlier. Aug 9 '17 at 9:22
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    @David Richerby except conciseness and an illustrated example.
    – hellyale
    Aug 13 '17 at 6:54
  • I believe in simplicity. Aug 13 '17 at 18:46

The word sic means 'it is really so', or 'just like that', or 'precisely'. It does not mean 'This is a typo' and it should not be used to point out typos. It should be used to indicate that you really mean it exactly/literally as you wrote it. This is useful when there is a risk that the reader mistakenly believes that there is a typo or misprint. For instance, if a doctor prescribes a medicine in a way that it is not normally used, or a dosage that is unusually large. Then the doctor would add 'sic', so that the pharmacist will understand that the prescription is really as intended.

In conclusion, sic is (should be) used to point out something that is CORRECT, not to point out an error!

  • 5
    This is exactly what it is usually used for. You're pointing out that you are giving the quote exactly as it is, even though the reader may assume you are wrong. You are pointing out that something is correct, just like you said. Which is why you should use it.
    – PeterL
    Aug 8 '17 at 17:03
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    One of the things that "sic" is used for is to indicate that you have correctly quoted something. "Smith said 'I am very clevver (sic)'" indicates that the quote is correct. This is useful, since there is a risk the reader will believe you (the quoter) have made a typo or misprint. Aug 8 '17 at 21:00
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    Except that there has been situations where the perscription with sic have had errors... which is really dangerous. So even a pharmacist won't take everything with sic at the face value.
    – joojaa
    Aug 9 '17 at 15:25
  • @joojaa indeed, such situations raise some interesting questions of their own.
    – Dan Romik
    Aug 10 '17 at 15:25
  • @DavidRicherby, shouldn't that [sic] go outside the quotation marks (as the quoter's gloss, not part of the quoted text)?
    – LSpice
    Aug 13 '17 at 11:19

I am missing the reasons so far why academia use [sic],[!] and correct quotation, so I point them out in detail. It has nothing to do with "old-fashioned" values or that scientists are anal-retentive for useless details. I expand it so it should be understandable even for laypersons.

So, yesterday I invented a perpetuum mobile, physics is done. Oh, you do not believe me? How insulting!

What are we making of this claim? If it is ridiculous, why it is ridiculous? The thing is that we need the ability to check a claim. It must be

  • verifiable: We must have the ability to either look it up or reproduce it. In the latter case it must be

  • traceable: We must have enough information to retrace the route which has given us the information. For exactly this case scientists have a laboratory journal which painstakingly notes the steps which have given the published result.

  • trustworthy: The source of the information must not have falsified evidence or tampered with evidence. If errors occur, it must be clear that it is really a honest mistake. This is the reason scientific fraud is a death sentence for the career of a scientist; they cannot be trusted anymore.

So why do we need quotes? Has a specific person said something important about the work, provided an important argument or necessary data about the subject we are examining? No? Then it does not belong in your text.

Yes? Then we need to make it verifiable, traceable and we must show the reader that we can be trusted. Traceability is guaranteed by providing the exact reference where we found the quote. Information which is based on goodwill can be paraphrased, but it must be clear that it is our understanding what we believe the text contains, not the actual text.

But you have completely misunderstood what I was saying. I did not say that what you are claiming.

If the exact meaning of the quote is paramount, we must provide verifiable evidence that what we claim is the 1:1, "exactly what it says on the tin" content. Once those magical quote chars appears, we must do our outmost to reproduce the exact content of the quote and this includes any misspellings and errors of the quote.

  • Veracity and trustworthiness: The problem is that any printed content may deviate because there are misprints, reprints and revisions which may alter the content. By providing the exact reference you are providing evidence that you really looked it up exactly there. Errors are even built in on purpose to check if content is identical. By modifying content your trustworthiness is gone because you cannot prove anymore that you really used the specified reference!

  • Source of errors: user2357112 already pointed it out: "iff" is not a typo, but a mathematical abbreviation. The meaning of words changes with diacritics, Stuck is not Stück. There are specific characters like ℮ which is not e or ℓ which does not mean l. Germans do not use ¶, but §, the 1 is written differently in handwriting, not as |, but more like 1. In former times people could argue that their typewriter does not support specific characters, this excuse is not longer valid. There are really countless traps that will change the meaning even if completely unintended.

  • The format of the content is itself used for scientific purposes and veracity: Language changes, specific words and spellings occur, disappear and change their appearance. This can provide evidence if the veracity of a text is in question. to-day is at the beginning of the 20th century not a typo, it is evidence that a quote which is claiming to come from this time is not falsified. Many forgeries have been detected by this method, so by altering content you are destroying evidence.

  • Content itself gives us information about the past, especially objectionable (racism, sexism) and embarassing content (e.g. dyslexia): Let's imagine that old books will be gradually replaced by books which are rewritten that they do not contain objectionable content anymore and the old books are destroyed. Fast forward 100 years later. The scientists which have only the new books must come to the conclusion that the late 20th/ early 21th must have suffered a mass delusion of epic proportions because there were big movements claiming unfair, derogatory and discriminatory treatment, but every book says that all people were really nice to each other and treat everyone with utmost respect!
    Another thing is the problem of correcting embarassing content. The question is: Why do you even think that you have the right to modify content because it is your opinion that it is not appropiate? You are essentially painting a big red sign on your torso: I will modify things if I do not find it appropiate, so my sources are biased and cannot be trusted.

  • Small details matter. This video explains the Xerox Maximum Credible Accident when copied numbers are replaced completely inconspicously by other numbers. This is also interesting because the "Birthers" pointed out (correctly!) that the numbers in the copy of Obamas birth certificate are conspicously equal (right) and therefore the birth certificate must be photoshopped (wrong, it was the Xerox machine). I cannot find a better way to demonstrate how catastrophic supposedly small and rare changes can be and how it can undetermine trust.

Why is this important? If you prepare for a honest discussion, you must prepare for that what is actually claimed, not for that what you believe is claimed.

  • If I understood your answer, you simply explained more in detail than me some of the reasons why the "old-fashioned" values of truth, facts and accuracy are important, so I disagree with your opening statement 'it has nothing to do with "old-fashioned" values'. As for why I referred to such values as old-fashioned, well, that part is at least debatable; some people will get what I'm referring to, and others may not get it or will say that these values are still popular and accepted today (and to them I say, lucky you for living in a really nice and civilized part of the world...).
    – Dan Romik
    Aug 9 '17 at 0:52
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    @DanRomik Yes, I explained the reason in more detail, my problem is that mentioning "old-fashioned values" simply sounds too much like "This is the way we have always done it" and "Truth, facts and accuracy" sounds like vague good-feeling ideals like "Freedom, equality etc." I did not want to say that the sentence is wrong (in fact, you are right), but the argument sounds too much like an attackable ad populum or ad passiones argument. I hope you understand now what I am trying to say, I am open for improvement. Aug 10 '17 at 22:39

I absolutely agree with using [sic] as you do not want to convey to your own readers that you are making mistakes. Your credibility is at stake, and there needs to be a way to insulate you from the mistakes of others. Your job, therefore, is to report - not correct or interpret.

In my case, I often write in journalistic format, and have to report on technical products, many of which have catchy names for marketing purposes, even though the name of the product is a misspelling. This has repercussions, because people familiar with the material know the products, but my readers are generally not familiar with the names. I would be crucified by my audience had I not conveyed a deliberate misspelling which is not, in fact, a misspelling.

Here is interesting reading:

Understanding the terrible spelling and punctuation in corporate names

If a journalist tries to make corrections, and that journalist is not familiar with the subject, making a "correction" can actually create a misspelling.

Having said that, there are times you do not want to use [sic]. If you are a reporter, and you are quoting someone who does not have good command of the language, you are in a position of having to interpret what was said or what was meant. News reporters get this all the time, and have to make choices to report or interpret, and, that can change the context.

For example, someone actually says "I seen him running from the car over yonder". How are you going to report this? You could interpret and write "I saw him running from the car over there", or you could write "I seen [sic] him running from the car over yonder [sic]"

I think neither method is best, but you have to report something. If you report exactly what was said, no [sic], then the reader probably knows it's not you. If you interpret, you are changing the apparent intelligence of the person you're quoting - and that changes the news. If you stick in all the [sic] markers, you'll have a mess no one can figure out.

  • 2
    The New York Times does occasionally report quotes that are grammatically incorrect from people being interviewed for articles, especially when the language is colorful or is in an interesting regional dialect, as in your cute "I seen him running" example. I find this charming and would not want them to correct such quotes. With that said, they do occasionally include statements such as "this interview was edited and condensed for clarity", which signify that some editorial discretion of the sort you describe has been exercised. If this is disclosed to the reader then I don't see a problem.
    – Dan Romik
    Aug 9 '17 at 1:00
  • I never noticed that disclaimer before. That is a good compromise. I find commentary on UFO sightings and kidnappings always make for great reading! A journalist would do well to quote exactly and avoid any [sic]. lol
    – Andrew Jay
    Aug 9 '17 at 1:37
  • "you do not want to convey to your own readers that you are making mistakes. Your credibility is at stake" — this may be a big deal for journalism, and some academic fields that study language/texts, but in many academic contexts it's insignificant. One unambigous typo in say a math paper will never affect your scientific credibility. Aug 10 '17 at 8:08

In addition to other answers about using sic or putting content in square brackets, sometimes you can avoid awkwardness by quoting less or breaking up the quote.

If the original quote is (misspelling the word carefully):

Take the wrapped potato and after inspecting it for any punctures caerfully lower it into the firepit.

You could avoid the issue entirely by quoting it like, say, this:

The camp leader said: "Take the wrapped potato" and carefully "lower it into the firepit".

Now you have faithfully represented the original, but also avoided making any change whatsoever to quoted text—the best of both worlds.

The objection could be raised that this makes the quote look more dodgy, as though you're concatenating two unrelated quotes to misrepresent what was said. I suppose that's possible, but I think it's a spurious concern, because if the reader doesn't trust you, there's no reason for him to believe you're quoting accurately in the first place. Would any of the following versions actually inspire confidence in such a reader who was suspicious of your commitment to faithful representation?

The camp leader said: "Take the wrapped potato ... and caerfully [sic] lower it into the firepit".


The camp leader said: "Take the wrapped potato ... and [carefully] lower it into the firepit".

Or even quoting the whole phrase in its entirety? A suspicious reader will have to check no matter what.

In a trusted publication or in the right context, there is no issue with breaking up a quote. Accuracy is easily checked and you will be called out if you misquote.

  • A problem with breaking up the quotation is that it could make it look like you're stitching together unrelated text to fabricate something that was never said. For example, Donald Trump has probably said "I think Hillary Clinton" is a "great, great leader" but probably hasn't said "I think Hillary Clinton is a great, great leader." Readers may feel obliged to check the context and authenticity of the two-part quote, just because it looks a bit dodgy. Aug 11 '17 at 12:30
  • @DavidRicherby see update and let me know what you think.
    – ErikE
    Aug 11 '17 at 15:18
  • I disagree with your disagreement but I'm happy that you've addressed my comment -- thanks! :-) Aug 11 '17 at 15:20
  • 1
    What? Preposterous. I disagree with "[your] disagree[ment] with [my] disagreement."
    – ErikE
    Aug 11 '17 at 15:25
  • Well I agree that you disagree with my disagreement with your disagreement! So there! Aug 11 '17 at 15:26

There are people who say ( or write) exactly what they want to say. I'm one of them. So, when quoting them, it's important to quote exactly. If the words/phrases used are not exactly what are expected, then 'sic' is exactly what is needed. It portrays that the new quoter doesn't necessarily believe that's exactly what the original quote meant, but that's exactly what was quoted, verbatim, and the reader should be aware of that.


You have to use [sic], or not change anything. That way everyone reading your paper knows exactly who wrote what.

My personal favorite example in this vein was the writer who [sic]ced "orient" and then explained that the writer they were quoting had meant "orientate".

  • 2
    "You have to use [sic], or not change anything" That's simply not true. And I don't really see the point of your example. Aug 15 '17 at 21:31

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