Word Confusion: Sic versus Sick

Posted September 11, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I got all outraged when I ran across someone using sick in their story to indicate that the character was setting his dog onto someone. Well, because everyone knows that it should be sic to explain this action. And, oh, boy. I was wrong. I hate that!

Turns out that sic and sick can be used interchangeably, so about all I can whine about is consistency. Whichever version you choose to use, use it consistently. It’s one thing to vary your adjectives — whole words! — to make your story more interesting, but it’s considered very unprofessional to change the spellings of the words.

And, because I cannot resist trying to impose my will, think about your perception of the word sick. Is it more likely to raise up images of illness? Or of using your dog to protect yourself? English is so rich in words, in the nuances of those words. Use that.

One note of caution. Do not use sick in text to indicate questionable or erroneous text.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Sic Sick
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“A dog chasing a heron off its nest in the reeds” is an engraving by F. Place under [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I wonder if someone sicced him on the bird.

“Nurses at Work on a Ward in Guy’s Hospital, London, 1941” by Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Part of Grammar:
Adjective 1; Adverb 2; Verb and Verb, transitive 3

Third person present verb: sics
Past tense or
past participle: sicced
Gerund or present participle: siccing

Alternative spelling: sick (including the verb past tense, participles, and gerund)

Adjective; Noun; Verb, transitive 4; 5

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: sicks
Past tense or past participle: sicked
Gerund or present participle: sicking

Alternative spelling: sic (including the past tense, participles, and gerund)

[North and Scots] Such

[Latin, literal] Used in brackets after a copied or quoted word that appears odd or erroneous to show that the word is quoted exactly as it stands in the original

Verb: 3, 5
Set a dog or other animal on someone

Verb, transitive:
[Informal] Set someone to pursue, keep watch on, or accompany another

  • To attack (used especially in commanding a dog)
  • To incite to attack (usually followed by on)
Affected by physical or mental illness

  • Of or relating to those who are ill
  • [Of an organization, system, or society] Suffering from serious problems, esp. of a financial nature
  • [Archaic] Pining or longing for someone or something

[Predicate] Feeling nauseous and wanting to vomit

  • [Of an emotion] So intense as to cause one to feel unwell or nauseous
  • [Informal] Disappointed, mortified, or miserable

[Predicate; sick of] Intensely annoyed with or bored by someone or something as a result of having had too much of them

[Informal; esp. of humor] Having something unpleasant such as death, illness, or misfortune as its subject and dealing with it in an offensive way

  • [Of a person] Having abnormal or unnatural tendencies
  • Perverted

[Informal] Excellent
[As plural noun] The sick

[British, informal] Vomit

Verb, transitive: 5
[British; informal; sick something up] Bring something up by vomiting

Sick something on

Set a dog or other animal on someone

  • [Informal] Set someone to pursue, keep watch on, or accompany another
Sir Francis Bacon is apt to conclude that Science, which has made sic astounding discoveries.

Sic food as was wasted.

“She had indicated that he [sic] had accomplished everything by herself.”

Sic ’em, boy.

Verb, transitive:
The plan was to surprise the heck out of the grizzly by sicking the dog on him.

He sicced the dogs on them.

She was nursing very sick children.

We were sick with bronchitis.

The company organized a sick fund for its workers.

Their economy remains sick.

He was sick for a sight of her.

He was starting to feel sick.

Mark felt sick with fear.

He had a sick fear of returning.

He looked pretty sick at that, but he eventually agreed.

I’m absolutely sick of your moods.

This was someone’s idea of a sick joke.

He is a deeply sick man from whom society needs to be protected.

That’s sick, man.

It was a sick party.

visiting the sick and the elderly

That’s his sick.

Oh, brother, he sicked up.

Careful, I think she’s going to be sick.

No, she took sick last week.

I am sick and tired of always being the last to know.

Adverb: sic passim, Adjective: sickish
Phrasal Verb
History of the Word:
1 Middle English (1325-75 ) is north and Scots).

2 Latin, literally so, thus.

Mid-19th century dialect in a variant of seek.

4 Old English sēoc meaning affected by illness and of Germanic origin.

Related to the Dutch ziek and German siech.

5 Variant of sic 3.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Sic ‘Em” by Joseph Keppler is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. A cartoon print from 1881, it is a print showing Charles Stewart Parnell, a prisoner in the “Kilmainham Kaboose”, directing a pack of small dogs labeled “Healy, Kettle, Egan, O’Connor, Dillon, Davitt, Sexton, [and] Brennan” to attack the British Lion, instead they scatter in all directions. The caption for the cartoon reads: “Mr. Parnell in his great feat of letting loose the dogs of war”.