There is a time in any nonfiction writer’s life when they get good enough to use [sic]. And do they use it! It’s such a wonderfully passive-aggressive way to attack other writers. Generally, such writers eventually move past that point and never use it as a weapon. But they also learn that it is almost never necessary — especially on the internet.
Based on how most people use [sic], they must think that it means, “This is wrong.” But that is not it at all. Indeed, while it often does highlight errors, that is not its purpose.
What Is [sic]?
[sic] is short for sic erat scriptum. According to Google Translate, this means “thus it is written.” But it is better to think of as “literally” or “as written.”
And that’s all that [sic] means: the words before are meant as written. So I could write, “I’m felling spacd ot toda [sic].” And this is one of its most appropriate uses: to call attention to your bad humor attempts.
Traditionally, [sic] was used to indicate that anything in quoted text that might confuse the reader is there intentionally. So in quoting Shakespeare, I might write, “And all clouds that lowr’d vpon [sic] our houfe [sic].”
Clearly, in this case, the [sic] is alerting to the user to the oddness. But more than that, it is saying, “This is how it is actually printed; I didn’t screw up.” And that’s very important because I’ve seen typos in quotes that writers introduced. I’ve done it myself when transcribing text.
Fix Errors in Quotations
But here’s the thing: [sic] is not meant to call attention to errors. And it is perfectly okay to fix any obvious errors and typos.
I hear people objecting. “What?! How dare you change another writer’s prose! You monster!”
There are several things wrong with this. First, only do this when it is clear. I’m sure you’ve seen things I’ve written here like, “He went to a a store.” Is there any doubt I meant to write, “He went to a store”?
Another issue is that editors and typesetters often put errors into a writer’s work. And that was even truer before writers and publishers had computers.
Only the worst pedants will complain unless you somehow change the quotation in a fundamental way.
But if it bothers you, put the changes inside square brackets.
Never Use [sic] as a Weapon
Fowler’s entry on [sic] is more of a rant condemning the use of it as a weapon. And rightly so! This usage is totally unacceptable.
And in the age of the internet, [sic] is almost never necessary because the reader already knows that any quotes are not transcribed. They are rather copied-and-pasted. So it is exactly what was written.
I suspect we will eventually get to the point were [sic] is primarily used as I first did in this article: to point out something the writer is saying.
But my main point is this: don’t be a jerk. In the end, you will only look small to the people who matter.
You should probably be able to guess, given the intensity of this article, that I am a former sinner. So don’t take my hectoring personally. It’s more self-criticism than anything.
 I don’t know enough about printing to say if any of this is actually different in substance. But it clearly is typographically, so if you require it, imagine I am writing about changes in printing.