My [sic] mistake

I started Consumed in 2004, and I think I’ve had five or six corrections — about one a year. Last weekend’s column contained a different sort of mistake — it’s factually correct, so there will be no correction, but I wish I could go back in time and fix it. I quoted from an online tutorial about making wallpaper from book pages: “You don’t necessary need old antique books, just books with pages with a yellow tint.” When I quoted that bit, I just cut the line and pasted it, and put it in quotes. I was reading it as “You don’t necessarily need old antique books, just books with pages with a yellow tint.”

You see the difference, right? I read “necessarily,” but it says “necessary.” Which is ungrammatical, obviously. It was a typo by whoever wrote the tutorial. But I missed that. And I wasn’t the only one, because even in the last page proof I saw, I was still reading it that way, and nobody had changed it — so we were all reading it, I think, as “necessarily.” But between the last proof and the column going to press, somebody caught the mistake, so it ran like this: “You don’t necessary [sic] need old antique books, just books with pages with a yellow tint.”

It happens that I have strong feelings about the use of [sic]. Hackish writers deploy this routinely to make whoever they are quoting look stupid. It’s a very cheap move, and a sure sign, in my view, of third-tier writing. It’s acceptable to use [sic] if there’s no way around it, and it’s sometimes excusable to use it if you’re trying to underscore the sloppiness, or stupidity, or whatever, of some powerful figure — if the president of an Ivy League school made a glaring mistake in some official context, maybe that would get a pass. But in general, [sic] is a cheap move — we all make mistakes, typos, little glitches, that mean nothing. This web site is full of such errors — for all I know this post will contain such errors, because I’m writing it quickly, and I don’t have a proofreader, etc. In other words, I’m no different than the person I quoted making some workaday, meaningless error.

If only I’d noticed it myself! I would have simply paraphrased: “You don’t necessary [sic] need old antique books, just books with pages with a yellow tint,” as “One doesn’t necessarily ‘need old antique books,’ the tutorial reassured, ‘just books with pages with a yellow tint.’” This would have achieved exactly what I wanted to achieve, without a distracting [sic] that appears to poke at some random person’s random typo. But because I failed to pay close enough attention, the latter scenario is exactly what came to pass.

I regret the error.