Readers' Representative Journal

A conversation on newsroom ethics and standards

« Previous Post | Readers' Representative Journal Home | Next Post »

In an ungrammatical quote, where's the [sic]?

Jerry BrownGene Axelrod of Huntington Beach was reading Tony Barboza's front page story Monday about dangers at Yosemite National Park when he reached this quote from Gov. Jerry Brown describing his reaction to a child standing near the edge of a steep drop-off in the park:

"It made me shake just looking at him. It's dangerous," Brown told the Associated Press. "If they slipped, they would have went right over."

The grammatical gaffe prompted Axelrod to write to The Times:

"Is our governor so uneducated and inarticulate that he actually said, 'If they slipped, they would have went right over'? Or did you forget to insert the signal [sic] after 'went'? ... Sorry, but the continuing degradation of our language annoys me."

The short answer, according to Assistant Managing Editor Henry Fuhrmann, is that The Times generally does not use "sic" in such circumstances.

The Times’ style and usage guide advises against the use of "sic" unless it is part of the material being quoted, such as in a transcript. "If it is necessary to note an error in quoted matter, it's best to simply point it out," the stylebook entry says.

Fuhrmann added, "Our avoidance of the term is in keeping with our general approach of not altering quotes or interfering through the overuse of brackets."

"From my reading, I would say it's rare to see 'sic' in an American newspaper."

Barboza noted that people don’t always speak in grammatically correct sentences. "Yet," he said, "a big part of our job as journalists is to report comments exactly how they are spoken. In this case I figured most people would read it and understand what he meant."

The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the standard outside the newspaper industry, might support Axelrod’s advocacy of "sic." It advises: "The device should be used only where it is relevant to call attention to such matters (and especially where readers might otherwise assume the mistake is in the transcription rather than the original) or where paraphrase or silent correction is inappropriate."

But Fuhrmann said, "I'm not convinced that Brown's relatively minor grammatical error was so notable that it merited being singled out."


Usage: 'Latino' preferred over 'Hispanic'

Expletives: A big ... deal

--Deirdre Edgar

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown and wife Anne Gust Brown at Yosemite in July. Credit: Anne Gust Brown via Twitter

Post a comment
If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate.
Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In

Comments (11)

This headline itself is not gramatically correct. Quote is a verb. The correct noun here would be quotation.

I agree with the Times's approach, not with the reader. People, even governors, often don't speak grammatically. (sic) is like shaking your finger in the speaker's face and saying "nyah, nyah, you made a booboo."

I think the fact that it was quoted as it was spoken was more surprising. In other publications, spoken grammatical errors are corrected. (Imagine how a popular music magazine would read if the quotes were printed as spoken.)

Every day, I hear people make grammatical errors in their speech: "give it to you and he", "they" instead of "he" or "she", "them" instead of "him" or "her", the split infinitive, and the participle at the end of a sentence. I'm as guilty as anyone of mixing tenses (and placing commas outside of quotes in this comment). Even worse are the misuses of words like "fortuitously" (instead of luckily), and "literally" (instead of figuratively) by people who on cranky days might say "'conversate' is not a word," yet not offer up "converse" or "talk" as better alternatives.

Broken is the way most people, including most educated people and some writers, talk. Sometimes, and I mean very rarely, saying it wrong is more right. For example: "We all f'd up!"

I think the L.A. Times has missed the point of sic. It's an unobtrusive way of clarifying that the newspaper is accurately quoting the speak. The only less obtrusive method is not to say anything at all, which leaves the reporter (or, more often, the copy desk) open to charges of illiteracy. The point of sic is not to wag a finger at any speaker - we all speak colloquially and informally - but to indicate that the quotation is correct as it stands, despite not seeming to be "correct."

I think The Times got it right. If papers added [sic] to every ungrammatical quote, it would become very obtrusive and, in fact, quite common and distracting -- not to mention taking up space, which is always at a premium in a newspaper. Quotation marks should signify to readers that the phrase was written exactly as said, grammatical errors and all.

And Merriam-Webster, a common secondary reference after a paper's own stylebook and/or the AP Stylebook, has a listing for "quote" as a noun, so equally acceptable as "quotation." (I don't have a copy of the L.A. Times Stylebook or AP Stylebook on hand.)

Irregardless [sic], I like the insight and information provided by the "Reader's Rep" section. Thanks!

Sorry, Readers' Rep.

"quote" is a perfectly valid noun, used as such at least since 1885.
quote. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. (accessed: August 18, 2011).

As I understand it, direct quotations from athletes in the newspaper today are "cleaned up." At least what gets printed is heavily edited compared to the often unintelligible sound bytes captured by TV and radio sources. No [sic]'s are involved, the words just magically appear corrected.

In years past, sports journalists would faithfully transcribe the grammatical errors of hispanic ballplayers with little fluency in English (Roberto Clemente for one,) while taking care to edit the words of white athletes in print.

Nowadays, such racial inequality would not go unnoticed. Yet the LA Times will matter-of-factly treat the governor differently than overpaid entertainers.

I'm glad the LA Times doesn't tidy up spoken language. Let us read just what they say!

Great observation and it is distressing to hear and see the language get misused (sp?). How do you think and why do you think this is happening? I have a theory. If you have ever heard a citizen being interviewed on TV, the constant inappropriate verb tenses and incorrect plural or singular forms of pronouns seem to be the most problem for speakers. You can understand why a Latino may make mistakes (since English is not their native tongue). But to hear this kind of sloppiness coming out of the mouths of teenagers is telling. Our educational system is being eroded by teachers that are underpaid, burned-out and tired of being politically correct. This is not going away.

Have to agree with Terrils -- as written, one must assume that the editors missed it. If what what is printed is grammatically incorrect, you had better clarify that it was due to the speaker and not the editors. And unless it is court testimony, I do expect that the editors will correct simple grammar mistakes -- to eliminate the jolt to the reader stumbling over it, and to set an example -- we hear enough BAD grammar everyday and should not be subjected to it further in our newspapers.

This is the backup site for The Los Angeles Times. We'll post news and information if becomes inoperable or inaccessible.

this is a test breaking news post |  April 16, 2013, 1:45 pm »


Have a story tip?

Please send to

Can I call someone with news?

Yes. The city desk number is (213) 237-7847.