Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to the media following a luncheon in Fresno on Aug.…
The Times does its best to catch its own typos and grammatical errors before a paper goes to print or a story is posted online; when we come up short, readers tend to let us know. But what happens if a source quoted in a story commits a linguistic faux pas?
Gene 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 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."
Edgar is the readers representative for The Times.