Saturday, 13 November 2010

Sick vs [sic]: A regurgitation

Which is more annoying: The colloquial adjective “sick”, used predominantly by sections of the urban youth to convey approval; or the academic (read pretentious) “[sic]”, meaning “thus”, predominantly used by those wishing themselves to appear urbane, often in ‘correcting’ the language of aforementioned youths?

Frankly, I find both vomit inducing, but one slightly more tolerable than the other.

Take for example the great William Blake; an extract from his preface to Milton’s Paradise Lost was reproduced by AN Wilson in The Daily Telegraph as:

"Shakspeare [sic] & [sic] Milton were both curb'd [sic] by the general malady & [sic] infection from the silly Greek & [sic] Latin slaves of the Sword".

Admittedly, Blake should have been able to spell Shakespeare’s name, but whereas today such typos, (well not exactly, but you catch my drift), would be corrected by a keen eyed sub-editor, or, better still, Microsoft Word’s spell-check, now they are preserved only to be flaunted by critics in the literary equivalent of a blooper reel: “Oh look at me; I’ve spotted some spelling errors in the works of the great romantic poet and visionary William Blake.” You know, that kind of thing.

And that’s not even the worst of it. Consider the reproductions of texts, emails, Facebook messages or any manner of privately written correspondences that find there way into the newspaper:

Earlier this year, The Daily Mail reported the story of a British sailor who fell into difficulties off the Caribbean cost and was rescued after sending the following text message to his father:

“I'm between Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, the steering gear is shot and operating (just) on the emergency tiller but only for short periods at a time… My best shot is the US Coastguard as Dominican services non-existant (sic). Position: N 19.22.143, W069.08.921 can you call someone”

Personally, I think the correct spelling of the word “existant” is probably pretty far down the list of priorities of a man seriously contemplating drowning. On the one hand he’s being praised for the quick thinking that most likely saved his life, whilst simultaneously being exposed for the terrible speller that he is. And are we to believe he took the time to correctly capitalise “Puerto Rico” and “Dominican Republic”? The journalist should have either corrected the spelling or reproduced the text verbatim complete with any inaccuracies. I think we’d have managed to figure out the mistake, dreadful as it was, wasn’t his.

Contrast this to the commonly used “sick” in casual speech. As in “What a sick goal!”, or “This tune is sick”. Yes that is so annoying it makes my skin crawl and yes if I ever found the word subconsciously creeping into my vernacular I’d cut off my tongue to prevent it happened again, but it is at least expressive as opposed to malicious.

Obsessively searching for words to sicify [sic] is the worst kind of pedantry, it smacks of pettiness, and is often employed with the intention to belittle. For all it grates, (at least on my ears), to hear “sick” used complimentarily, this change of usage is creative. Admittedly, it can be problematic endorsing or even commenting on the slang terms du jour, especially when doing so in pseudo-academic and occasionally outright pompous language, (du jour, seriously?!).

But a serious point lies at the root of this, I hope. Language which some perceive to be incorrect, colloquial, even vulgar, can serve the purpose of renewing and revitalising our collective vocabularies. If those who seek to enforce some entirely subjective and prohibitive rules pertaining to what is correct and what isn’t, the richness and vitality of our lexicon would suffer. Language needs these colloquial forays into the domain of improper usage and those that feel otherwise would do well to remember that a language that doesn’t evolve, dies.

No comments:

Post a comment