The Controversy That Wasn’t

Instapundit links to a post at NewsBusters about ABC News’s use of [sic] that might indicate media bias or lack of belief in an afterlife.

NewsBusters says:

Adding religious insult to mortal injury in its coverage of the 3000th US service-person to die in Iraq, ABC seemed to suggest that there was something odd or erroneous in the expression of a traditional belief in the afterlife.

The quote to which ABC News applied the [sic] is:

“You were one of my best friends and I’ll never forget you. All my prayers go to your family and I’ll see you again.” (sic)

Come on, people. There is a grammar error in the sentence, so use of [sic] is appropriate. The second sentence is a compound sentence, which means there should be a comma before the conjunction between the clauses. It should be: All my prayers go to your family, and I’ll see you again.

Here’s a story on that uses the comma appropriately:

Rumsfeld was supposed to be an honorary pall bearer at Saturday night’s ceremony, but bad weather in New Mexico apparently prevented him from making the earlier service.

See? ABC News was noting that the comma was missing in the source material. Not that it’s a bunch of godless heathen mocking Christians.

People ought to save their outrage for outrageous things, not inventions based on faulty understanding of grammar.

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19 thoughts on “The Controversy That Wasn’t

  1. That’s just silly. The first sentence is also a compound sentence and compound sentences with two elements do not require commas any more than the phrase “bread and butter” requires a comma. The Rumsfeld sentence is not a compound sentence, it is a complex sentence, with the “but” clause dependent on and modifying the first clause. “But” is quite a different kind of conjunction from “and”.

  2. FYI, in the disputed quote from ABC,

    “You were one of my best friends and I’ll never forget you. All my prayers go to your family and I’ll see you again.” (sic)

    the first sentence is also a compound sentence, so there should be a comma after “friends.” So, I guess, ABC should have placed a (sic) after the first sentence and the second sentence?

  3. I don’t think it’s about the comma. More likely, they were merely pointing out that the statement really said “I’ll see you again” to a guy who had just died, which is a bit out of the ordinary, whether uttered by someone who believes in an afterlife or not. Usually the believers who really mean to say something like that add something like “in heaven” or what-not to make it clear what they are talking about that. Absent that, it sounds as though someone had butchered the quote, e.g., he really meant to say “I’ll see you again” to his family.

    Either way, this is a tempest in a teapot. “Sic” does not imply an error, only that the underlying statement was enough out of the ordinary to warrant pointing out that the original really was phrased exactly the way it was reproduced. And AFAIK it is almost never used as an attack on the substance, rather than the form, of what was said.

  4. Robert, I thank you for reading, but you’re wrong.

    That is a compound sentence. Both clauses could stand independently:
    Robert, I thank you for reading. You’re wrong.

    Robert, I thank you for reading when you visit.

    That’s a complex sentence making use of a dependent clause that cannot stand on its own (Robert, I thank you for reading. You visit.).

    You, too, could use a bit of a refresher on grammar.

    The difference between but and and lies only a touch in meaning. There is no difference in rules.

    Robert, I thank you for reading, and you’re still wrong.

  5. Good lord, if this is the sort of sillyness than can make Instapundit these days, I think the War on Liberal Media Bias is about done. I’m off to post about the evolution that lives under my bed and makes me doubt my faith at night, but only after I put Pajamas Media banners on my site.

  6. Unfortunately the usage in the quote is entirely normal enough to raise the question, “Why the ‘sic’?” [sic, with regard to my not using a comma after “unfortunately,” for my own silly personal reasons] If I were the editor, I think I would’ve let the quotation marks speak for themselves, since only the grammarians among us would take the lack of comma in either sentence as error rather than just idiomatic usage. Or something like that [sic].

  7. Brian J.,

    Did I miss your response to the comment that pointed out the first sentence is a compound sentence, too? Thus, if ABC inserted “sic” because of an absent comma in the second sentence, why did ABC fail to add “sic” after the first sentence?

    It seems more likely to me that ABC inserted “sic” to flag the commenter’s “I’ll see you later” language as an error that occurred in the original comment.

  8. DRJ, you guys are correct; both sentences are compound and are both incorrect.

    I don’t know ABC News’s standard for application of [sic], so I don’t know if the [sic] should apply to the entire quote or what.

  9. Anonymous, fortunately, no; I know the secret, insert-your-link-on-Instapundit URL. If Professor Reynolds actually existed and screened the material submitted to “his” blog, I’d never stand a chance.

  10. Sorry about the anonymous login, but that’s the only way I could get it.

    According to paragraph 5.25 of the University of Chicago’s Manual of Style, which is the copyeditor’s bible, “Where the clauses of a compound sentence are joined by a conjunction, a comma should be placed before the conjunction unless the clauses are short and closely related.” It seems to me from this reading that the writer should have inserted a command before the “and” in the second sentence, and if I were editing his copy, I would have done so. So I think Brian is correct.

    However, that being said, so what? This is a hairsplitting item of punctuation that in no way affects the meaning of the sentence. Nowadays, sic is reserved for egregious mistakes in spelling or punctuation, rather than for minor points like this one.

    Now, I have no way of knowing why the sic was inserted. Perhaps the editor was knocking the writer’s sentiment; perhaps he’s a grammar nazi; or perhaps (as I first thought) the editor mistakenly thought that the writer believed the soldier was still alive and so was correcting the writer’s mistaken impression, with the editor not considering that the writer was referring to an afterlife.

    Brother, talk about a tempest in a teapot!

  11. Until every ‘deserving’ islamist statement is similarly marked, ABC News’ use of (sic) is open to criticism.

  12. Hyscience (, I get what you mean by “Not that it’s a bunch of godless heathen [sic] mocking Christians.” now.

    But please do consult your dictionary, sir, and note that heathen is also a plural noun. That is, one can use either heathens or heathen for the plural of an individual heathen. Although I rarely encounter them one at a time.

    As we can deduce, I think heathen is preferable.

  13. As I emailed to Professor Reynolds last night, I’m confident the “(sic)” was employed because of the first half of that same sentence, “All my prayers go to your family”. “Go to your family?” Nay! “All my prayers go out for your family” is likely what the MySpace friend meant to say. (I don’t pray TO anyone but God myself.) I’ve seen/heard this “mistake” on numerous occasions — including some bloggers who are successful authors, politicians, etc.

    Time for everybody to calm down, then apologize to the unidentified ABC staffer — who is likely having a good laugh by now.

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