That’s just sic (sic)

That’s just sic (sic)

When I was going through my morning

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read this morning, I have to say I was amused…or was it  appalled?   Annoyed? It was one of those “A” words, but really, I’m only good at the first one. 😉 I’m going with amused…to see a quotation in a news article coming from WikiLeaks.

The quote said something about “centre (sic)”.

Now, the use of “sic” (a Latin word basically meaning “thus”, as I understand it) is usually intended to convey something like, “Hey, this is the way I found it…I didn’t make this mistake”.

That just struck me as odd in this case.

I would assume that anyone who understood the use of “sic” would also know that “centre” isn’t odd or an error…it’s the way the word is spelled in the UK (and other places), and was the “proper” spelling in the U.S.A. for a long time.

I always like to remind people that Noah Webster was really making a point in 1828. Webster wanted to separate American spellings from British spellings. That’s not to say that it was totally made up (“center” and “color” predate the dictionary), but like today’s chat speak, part of doing it for some people is to make a political or social point.

I’d really like to know why the writer of the article I was reading chose to put in that “sic”. Was it because the writer thought it was an error…or thought the readers would?

If you are a “serious reader”, as I’m sure many of you are, you may find that you spell some things differently from many of your colleagues.

For example, for me, “theatre” is the natural spelling…but right now, WordPress has put a red wavy underline under that spelling for me, to let me know it is “wrong”. 🙂

I’m sure I’ve been influenced by being a fan of 19th Century literature. Even when I’m reading translations from, say, Russian, they tend to be in British English more than American English…they follow Samuel Johnson rather than Noah Webster.

I’ve mentioned before that our adult kid is a linguist, and, thanks to that, I’ve come around to the idea that if the language serves its purpose, it is correct. Language often changes over time, so that what you might be adamantly insisting on now may have been incorrect in the past (and vice versa).

Certainly, even more so, the spelling can vary in different cultures.

I was pulled up short by seeing the spelling “kerb” in Australia years ago, for what would be spelled “curb” in the USA (it was some sort of traffic or warning sign…I think it may have been about where to stand).

Obviously, I knew what it meant…I think, nowadays, I would simply find it more amusing (there’s that word again) and charming, but I do think I’ve become a better person over the years (I think the majority of people do). Oh, I wasn’t irritated then, but I think I thought it was funnier than I would now…there was perhaps a tad bit of  condescension  on my part, which was inappropriate.

I also catch myself spelling the same word different ways at different times…not through error or inattention, but perhaps through context.

For me, James Bond has a licence to kill, and I have a driver’s license. I assume I first read James Bond in a British edition, where the second “C” would be common, and that I’ve been seeing  the “S” at the American DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). In England, I believe the “S” is the verb and “C” is the noun…in America, we just use the “S” version for both.

Here’s another example: how do you pronounce the word “Caribbean”? Obviously, this one isn’t just from reading, but from usage.

For me, the first syllable rhymes with “bear” in the place (and is emphasized), and it rhymes with “fur” in the adjective (and the third syllable is lightly emphasized).

So, I could hear the word out of context, and if someone was following my preferred pronunciations, I would know if it was a noun or an adjective…but honestly, how often is that situation going to arise? 🙂

I also use British slang at times (as well as some other dialects of English). When I’m surprised by something, I may say, “Hello!” and pretty commonly, “Hello, what’s this?” That’s not something that my fellow Americans say very often, with that connotation.

As a trainer, though, I have the ability to monitor what I am saying and adjust it for my audience. When I used to hire trainers, I would explain that the ability to “dissociate” (I use that to mean to be able to think about one thing while doing something else) was something I wanted.

I have empathy (another quality of trainers) for the people in the room…I can get a pretty good sense of how they feel. If I realize that they aren’t understanding my “big words”, for instance, I will dial that back (if they aren’t needed for the context).

I also now find that happens a lot for me with pop culture references. I may make a reference to The Man from U.N.C.L.E.** as easily as I’ll make one to Zayn leaving One Direction. I can tell if my students understand one or the other or both, and again, may make a joke about it and adjust.

My point in all this, as it has to do with reading, is that variety in spelling is fine with me…but I do think there is a tendency to standardize. That standardization is going to frequently move towards the American, for a few reasons:

  • America is a really big market…just like New York, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere 😉
  • Much of the software, such as spell checking, is written in the U.S.A.. It may have regional settings, but I think many people simply don’t change them, even to match their own place of residence
  • This may be a stereotype, but Americans may be less…tolerant of understanding other culture’s local linguistics than they are of ours. Of course, the French are famously protective of their language, but it is seen as an American thing as well. I’ve also mentioned this before, but I sometimes see Americans derided for, by and large, not being bilingual (compared to, say, Europeans). I do think one legitimate reason for that is that we are a large country without a lot of other languages easily accessible to us (one exception being Spanish from Mexico, and French from parts near French-speaking Canada…and those are the two languages which are perhaps the most popular “second” languages for Americans). In Europe, you could probably drive through five different “language zones” in a day. We do have a lot of immigration, so there are many languages spoken in the USA…but again, by and large, we expect immigrants to learn English. We do voting materials in several languages, and where I work, we have a translation line with something like 300 languages available, but perhaps because we have such a heterogeneous country, it would be quite complex to expect everyone to learn everyone else’s language, so we standardize to English. Wow, that is probably the most complex sentence I’ve ever written in the blog!

What do you think? Do people ever think you are from another country because you’ve used a word or phrase you learned in a book? Are you comfortable with seeing words spelled differently from what you expect, or will that pull you out of a book? Would you rather read a book (Harry Potter is a good example) with the original language, or would you prefer it was “regionalized” for your country? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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** The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a popular 1960s TV show (I like 19th Century literature and 1960s TV). Fortunately for me, there is a big screen remake coming out this year, so my references may make more sense to more people 😉

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


6 Responses to “That’s just sic (sic)”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I blame it on Hayley Mills, but I’ve been a long time anglophile. Then add in The Beatles and the rest of the “British Invasion” bands, favorite authors like Mary Stewart, a fascination with the Tudors, and years of Masterpiece Fiction as well as East Enders, I have a pretty good British vocabulary. I also understand that British writers handle quotation marks differently from American writers.

    One of my favorite active content Kindle games is “Every Word,” a word game where you are given groups of letters from which to form a given number of words. You can play it “relaxed” where you can take all the time you need, or use “timed” where you have 3 minutes to find all words for each level. [I always hoped they’d redesign the game to give more time for later levels which contain more letters and longer lists of words, but I digress.] One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen in the reviews for the game and in the discussions is that it contains a lot of odd words. I quickly recognized “git” from all those season of East Enders where obnoxious characters were often labeled as “gits.” I quickly learned that if one of the words was liter, the list would also contain litre, or meter and metre. And if goal was one of the words, I must also include “gaol”, the British spelling of “jail.” And of course, spell checker is putting those red dots under litre and metre and gits, though it lets git pass because of the techie connection.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I quite understand those references, although I would say that I probably first really got git 😉 from Monty Python. I would guess that “gaol” for me was first from Oscar Wilde…although it’s difficult to know where one first learned a word. I’ve certainly seen gaol many times…the word, not the place. 😉

  2. rogerknights Says:

    Spell checkers should allow users the option to accept BOTH American and British lexicons as correct. This is espicially useful when a document contains quotations from both sources. I’ve suggested this to Microsoft without success.

    One little-known use of “sic” is outside of a quotation, to indicate that one’s own seemingly odd usage or fact is actually correct.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, rogerknights!

      I completely agree with your suggestion! I often have to tell devices that individual words are correct, when it would be nice to give it a blanket “UK OK” instructions.

      Yes, your “little-known” use is…what I did in the headline of the post. 🙂 Perhaps it is now slightly less little-known. 😉

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    My parents were transferred overseas to India in the early 60’s, and I ended up going to high school in Switzerland.

    The educational scheme where I went was very much in the British “public” (for Americans substitute “private” :grin) school tradition. Almost all the teachers were British (save for a token American or two). Everything was geared towards passing the British GCE ‘O’ & ‘A’ level exams.

    The British back then used a “high end discriminator” marking system based on 100 points. 40-45 was equivalent to our ‘D’, 45-55 was a ‘C’, 55-65 was a ‘B’, and anything above 65 was an ‘A’. Contrasting this with an American system where a pass was 70, I initially felt like I was in fat city.

    Unfortunately, that marking system meant you got dinged for everything, punctuation, spelling, the lot — even if you were taking a maths or physics exam!

    I had to learn a whole new way of spelling, and (in some cases) speaking. British punctuation rules are very different from American ones — in many cases they are less rigid — the emphasis is to use punctuation to indicate how a passage might be spoken — so things like commas, semicolons, em dashes, etc should indicate various durations of spoken pauses.

    Then of course are words used differently (:grin). What we call an undershirt, they call a vest; what we call a vest, they call a waistcoat. We call it sidewalk; they call it pavement — and so it goes…

    When I returned to the states for college, and was taking a composition class, the prof was quite annoyed with my British spellings — he like his British counterparts was very lexigraphically chauvanistic (:grin).

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      …or should I say, “Ta for writing, Edward!” 😉

      I was amused when I was visiting Australia, and I’m guessing this may be the same in England. When you want French fries, you order chips, and when you want chips, you ask for crisps. 🙂 No worries, mate!

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