That’s just sic (sic)
When I was going through my morning
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 ;)
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