Whilst marking a batch of interesting essays for The Dawning of America module I debated as to how far I should highlight spelling/grammatical errors. Surely that comes with the job, highlighting errors to help correct them for future essays and assignments. But a marker could be tyrannical about it, and I’m pretty sure that many people get involved in teaching to feed their need to point out grammatical errors in a tyrannical manner.

So, various – generally pointless – arguments are waged in my brain whilst marking: should all errors be highlighted, and are they actually errors? For example, one of my gripes is the use of an apostrophe when discussing a decade: the 1960’s. Should that apostrophe be there? And even if it technically doesn’t belong, it is in such common use that it would be picky to highlight it in a student’s essay (check out any book, and that apostrophe will be present). The apostrophe could be present to denote possession, in which case, I’m waging this pointless debate in my brain for no good reason.

Another battleground is the use of direct quotations. Every writer should know that the quote should be as written in the original text: all errors, italics/emphasis. And when delving further back into history the contemporary sources become all the more muddled due to the change in the English language itself. But such errors could confuse the marker, which was why I was told to insert the useful and valuable ‘Sic’ into the quote to highlight that it was the error/mistake/intention of the original writer to use those letters in that particular order.

During my old degree essays I always took an odd pleasure in using ‘Sic’. I’m not too sure why. Perhaps because I was able to intrude on the direct quotation, or perhaps because it was a knowing wink between me and the marker of the piece regarding the original error. Or, egging this further, perhaps it was a point at which the triumvirate united at once: essay writer, essay marker, and the contemporary writer of the source. Either way, it was nice to put ‘Sic’ into an essay, and bring out the brackets (because for me, the way to bring in ‘Sic’ was styling it as: [sic]). But during all of this time I had no actual idea as to what it stood for. Until one day when a student asked me, and all I could meekly say was: ‘I don’t know.’

So, what does Sic actually mean? It is Latin, like many of these referencing phrases (such as Ibid), and it stands for ‘just as’. The full phrase would have been ‘sic erat scriptum’, meaning: ‘thus was it was written’. Italicise it, place it in parenthesis or brackets, and be sure to display it in all its glory.  I will continue to take an odd joy in including it, and I strongly urge you to do so as well.