Don’t sic ’em

An error in quoted material can be marked by using [sic], thus:

 “Plaintiff thus requests that the Court hold a hearing in witch [sic] it can be determined whether the Smythe deposition should proceed.”

 Sic is Latin for “thus,” and when inserted in brackets it means “it was like this in the original.” One reason that you might use it is to show that you didn’t make the mistake; you’re just quoting accurately. You know how to spell “which.” The other reason that you might use sic is to sneer at someone, usually the other side. You’re telling the judge that not only is your opponent’s legal position ridiculous, but she also can’t spell.

You should reconsider. A sic is, at best, a distraction from the point that you are trying to make. Is your opponent an idiot who can’t spell “voir dire?” Perhaps so, but you are not likely to score points by mocking him for it. The vast majority of judges loathe incivility, particularly when it is gratuitous. Of course, you should be even more careful with sic when quoting people other than your opponent, such as another court (or the judge you are addressing).

Sic is usually easy to avoid. You can paraphrase the quote or adjust what is quoted to work around the error. And if the error is just a typo, you can fix it without comment. See Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) § 13.7  (“Obvious typographic errors may be corrected silently (without comment or sic)”). That kind of courtesy won’t undermine the effectiveness of your brief, and—if noticed—will enhance your personal credibility.

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