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To Stet Or Not To Stet, That Is the Question 264

theodp writes "The NY Times' Virginia Heffernan confesses to being stumped by how to excerpt the language on message boards and blogs. For example, Heffernan notes she could quote kavya on Yahoo Answers word for word ('How is babby formed? How girl get pragnent?'), but worries that doing so makes kavya look like an idiot rather that the sweetly earnest 7-year-old that he or she might be. Is it better to paraphrase or revise the question into 'How is a baby formed?' For now, Heffernan is going to let things stand (stet) and treat message boards like novels, preserving idiosyncrasies of language as far as possible and taking them as intentional — a 'wuz' on the Internet remains 'wuz' in the paper."
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To Stet Or Not To Stet, That Is the Question

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  • Maybe (Score:5, Funny)

    by strelitsa ( 724743 ) * on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:11PM (#24258093) Journal
    I have a sic feeling I know the answer.
  • one viewpoint (Score:5, Insightful)

    by welkin23 ( 1168399 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:14PM (#24258111)
    Traduttori traditori; "translators are traitors".
  • Well? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bieeanda ( 961632 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:15PM (#24258117)
    How is babby formed? []
    • It's still funny, but I assumed that the person writing the babby question was much older than 7 the first time I saw it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by nstrom ( 152310 )

      This thing still cracks me up every time. I love it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by AsmordeanX ( 615669 )


      I had my speakers up pretty loud. That startled me then I started laughing and yet a piece of me cried at the destruction of our language.

      I've a feeling that grammer nazies will patrol the comments to this story in full force.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Usually by calling Babby::Babby(Father dad,Mother mom).

    • Well played. I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard. That should be +10 funny.
  • *boggle* !

  • [sic] (Score:5, Informative)

    by InterruptDescriptorT ( 531083 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:17PM (#24258133) Homepage
    I always thought the marker for material being quoted as it was spoken or written was [sic].

    For example,

    'John be [sic] tripping. He always [sic] doin' shit like that.'

    In this case, the [sic] denotes the use of the infinitive of the copula verb in African-American English Vernacular (AAEV) to mean a habitual action; the second is used to mark the elision of the copula verb in the sentence.

    Just my two cents' worth (former English grad student and undergrad seminar leader/paper grader).
    • Re:[sic] (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:26PM (#24258203)

      Yes indeed, and [sic] exists because it is extremely poor form to edit a quote.

      I'm more familiar with what journalism demands, but you're really not wanting to edit what a person says, even if it makes them look better than what they originally said. Any edits to somebody else's words opens up liability both for lawsuits as well as ethics complaints.

      A well written article uses quotes as a means of showing the reader what happened, if one were to edit the quotes beyond cutting unnecessary bits to fit the article, there's a real risk of changing the quote. Even cutting it down brings in risks if it's not done in a careful manner.

      Really, editing quotes is just a bad idea if the quote is so bad that you really have to edit it, then the appropriate thing to do in most cases is to just look for another one.

      I'm definitely not the foremost expert on this, but it is something to undertake only with great trepidation.

    • Re:[sic] (Score:5, Funny)

      by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:28PM (#24258211) Journal
      Shouldn't that second sic be after 'He', the location of the elision?

      In which case when quoting you I need to write

      * 'John be [sic] tripping. He always [sic] [[sic]] doin' shit like that.'

    • Re:[sic] (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:48PM (#24258347)

      I always thought the marker for material being quoted as it was spoken or written was [sic].

      Minor nitpick, but typographically the square brackets are set roman while the word is set in italics. So it would appear as [sic] instead of [sic].

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      You don't find this article interesting? I find this extremely interesting because, as a writer and blogger, I'm often wondering how best to transcribe the "idiosyncrasies of (message-board) language", which the author of the article suggests

      "should be preserved as far as possible and taken as intentional, unless in context they are obviously evidence that the writer has innocently hit the wrong key ("teh," "rihgt"). A "wuz" on the Internet remains "wuz" in the paper.

      My own take: consider the reporter, wh

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jason Earl ( 1894 )

        I have yet to see anything intelligent written in "message board language." The only real reason to quote such tripe is to make fun of the writer's lack of education.

        In short, this is not really a question of good journalism, it is a question of ethics. If you feel it is ethical to mock someone, then quote them verbatim. If you do not feel that this sort of treatment is ethical, then write about something else.

    • well technically, sure: [sic] is what the grammar has to deal with quoting something grammatically incorrect.

      but i'm not sure it's the right approach in this case, for a few reasons:

      * it's often interpreted as assy

      * if you're quoting a significant amount of this material, you'd have like hundreds of [sic]s in your own text, and that's just dumb. the alternative might be just putting in footnote asterisks and have the footnote be "[sic]".

      i'm inclined to go w/ the summary's summary, which is to just quote it.

      • what would david foster wallace do ?

        He'd probably do everything you suggested. And then he'd write a four-page footnote explaining why each [sic] is there, along with alternate suggestions for how the quote could be worded, with at least 3 citations (which appear as endnotes) for each suggestion to references that back up the aforementioned suggestion.
    • Re:[sic] (Score:5, Informative)

      by yelvington ( 8169 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @10:37PM (#24258675) Homepage

      I always thought the marker for material being quoted as it was spoken or written was [sic].

      In printing, the word "stet" has, for generations, been used to indicate matter that should be allowed to stand in its original form, overriding any blue-pencil changes introduced by another editor.

      Since hardly anybody actually edits on paper any more, I doubt that the term is taught these days. Similarly, there's no reason to teach copyfitting, headline counting, or strange marks added to penciled copy above the lower-case n and below the lower-case u.

  • by strelitsa ( 724743 ) * on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:20PM (#24258153) Journal

    The Gettysburg Address:

    F0ur 5c0r3 4nd 53v3n y34r5 460 0ur f47h3r5 br0u6h7 f0r7h 0n 7h15 c0n71n3n7, 4 n3w n4710n, c0nc31v3d 1n |1b3r7y, 4nd d3d1c473d 70 7h3 pr0p051710n 7h47 4|| m3n 4r3 cr3473d 3qu4|.

    N0w w3 4r3 3n6463d 1n 4 6r347 c1v1| w4r, 73571n6 wh37h3r 7h47 n4710n, 0r 4ny n4710n 50 c0nc31v3d 4nd 50 d3d1c473d, c4n |0n6 3ndur3. W3 4r3 m37 0n 4 6r347 b477|3-f13|d 0f 7h47 w4r. W3 h4v3 c0m3 70 d3d1c473 4 p0r710n 0f 7h47 f13|d, 45 4 f1n4| r3571n6 p|4c3 f0r 7h053 wh0 h3r3 64v3 7h31r |1v35 7h47 7h47 n4710n m16h7 |1v3. 17 15 4|70637h3r f1771n6 4nd pr0p3r 7h47 w3 5h0u|d d0 7h15.

    Bu7, 1n 4 |4r63r 53n53, w3 c4n n07 d3d1c473 -- w3 c4n n07 c0n53cr473 -- w3 c4n n07 h4||0w -- 7h15 6r0und. 7h3 br4v3 m3n, |1v1n6 4nd d34d, wh0 57ru66|3d h3r3, h4v3 c0n53cr473d 17, f4r 4b0v3 0ur p00r p0w3r 70 4dd 0r d37r4c7. 7h3 w0r|d w1|| |177|3 n073, n0r |0n6 r3m3mb3r wh47 w3 54y h3r3, bu7 17 c4n n3v3r f0r637 wh47 7h3y d1d h3r3. 17 15 f0r u5 7h3 |1v1n6, r47h3r, 70 b3 d3d1c473d h3r3 70 7h3 unf1n15h3d w0rk wh1ch 7h3y wh0 f0u6h7 h3r3 h4v3 7hu5 f4r 50 n0b|y 4dv4nc3d. 17 15 r47h3r f0r u5 70 b3 h3r3 d3d1c473d 70 7h3 6r347 745k r3m41n1n6 b3f0r3 u5 -- 7h47 fr0m 7h353 h0n0r3d d34d w3 74k3 1ncr3453d d3v0710n 70 7h47 c4u53 f0r wh1ch 7h3y 64v3 7h3 |457 fu|| m345ur3 0f d3v0710n -- 7h47 w3 h3r3 h16h|y r350|v3 7h47 7h353 d34d 5h4|| n07 h4v3 d13d 1n v41n -- 7h47 7h15 n4710n, und3r 60d, 5h4|| h4v3 4 n3w b1r7h 0f fr33d0m -- 4nd 7h47 60v3rnm3n7 0f 7h3 p30p|3, by 7h3 p30p|3, f0r 7h3 p30p|3, 5h4|| n07 p3r15h fr0m 7h3 34r7h.

  • ...expressions such as OMFG might benefit from an edit.


  • by OnanTheBarbarian ( 245959 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:27PM (#24258207)

    Current practice for verbal quotes:

    If the person is a high-status, middle-aged white person, edit out all "umms", "ahhs", spelling mistakes, restatements, etc.

    If the person is under 30, leave in all 'likes', 'ya knows', etc. If they are of appropriate class or race, feel free to transcribe all '-ing' endings as '-in', too.

    So just follow this practice. Be sure to clean up high-status people if they are drivelling on, while doing verbatim quotes from teenagers, poor people, etc.

  • I'm not opposed to leaving excerpted web errors in print, but for some reason I really detest seeing it on television, especially TV news. Here in Los Angeles I recently saw a local news report that was highlighting Internet sentiment on gas prices, and when they showed misspellings and poor grammar, it really annoyed me - I considered it to be lowering quality of the segment. My view is probably based largely on the fact that the newscaster was reading off these opinions with so much seriousness and gravit
    • by Martin Blank ( 154261 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:38PM (#24258277) Homepage Journal

      I think they should be left alone in all formats. When it's put against a background of generally proper grammar, it looks even worse. If there's a higher chance of someone's quote becoming popular, it may (may) get them to consider using a spell checker. Even if it's incremental, getting people to learn better grammar is good for everyone.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Even if it's incremental, getting people to learn better grammar is good for everyone.

        It's well for everyone. Sheesh, get it right...
        • i would vote for good,
          treating "getting people to learn better grammar" as a noun-phrase. as if it were "Vitamin C" or "The Space Program" or something.

        • It's well for everyone. Sheesh, get it right...

          That's everyperson, don't be a sexist bastard.

      • getting people to learn better grammar is good for everyone

        How do you figure?

      • I think they should be left alone in all formats. When it's put against a background of generally proper grammar, it looks even worse. If there's a higher chance of someone's quote becoming popular, it may (may) get them to consider using a spell checker. Even if it's incremental, getting people to learn better grammar is good for everyone.

        This is a 7-year-old girl we're talking about. I think we can cut her some slack, especially if it also improves the clarity/readability of the story, without distracting from the point.

    • Local news...I'd say we found the first problem. Do they have billboards up where they cross their arms in navy blue blazers stuffed with shoulder pads? They're so cute when they do that.
  • Even worse... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VirusEqualsVeryYes ( 981719 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:33PM (#24258237)

    We need a better system for referencing the contents of Websites. Perfect example: the link to Yahoo Answers [] in the summary is already broken. It's of little use quibbling over the language if the original is lost.

    To make matters worse, the referencing styles reek of the hammer-nail syndrome. Websites are NOT periodicals, but every citation style treats them as such. Author's full name? Title of Periodical^WWebsite? And what use is the access date if we don't have reliable archiving (or time machines)?

    I think we need, at the very least, to set up reliable archiving before we can tackle any other citation questions raised by the nature of the Web. Perhaps a central, trustworthy source could copy a single page at request along and add metadata (date/time of archival, etc.), and then cite that?

    All I'm saying is that the citation standards have more pressing problems. "Babby" versus "baby" doesn't make a lick of difference if the link cited gets you "This question has been deleted."

    • Re:Even worse... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @01:52AM (#24259779) Homepage

      There is, in the form of the DOI [], which is used for Journal articles and such, and is accordingly loved by librarians.

      Unfortunately, as is the case with many of these librarian-developed databases, they didn't quite "get it" in terms of how the internet functions, and there is a fee to assign each new DOI. Accordingly, though it remains an indispensable tool for keeping track of journal articles, its use hasn't spread very far beyond that.

  • My view (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NoobixCube ( 1133473 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:37PM (#24258269) Journal
    I originally had a rant planned for this post, but it would have made me come off as an even more egalitarian prick than usual. Acronyms and abbreviations, in games, I can understand. Time is limited, and sometimes so is the text input space. Doing it when there's plenty of time and space to type properly just makes people look like idiots. I also loathe reading a conversation with someone who has all of their smilies on plain text cues, instead of inside hyphens or parentheses. I prefer to read text, not a rebus []
  • by beadfulthings ( 975812 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @09:51PM (#24258369) Journal

    OK, I know I'm older than God, but there must be other people around who remember or have read the "dialect" renderings in stories and novels. I'm thinking of anything between, say, "Honestly, Miz Scyallet, ah don' know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies..." all the way to "We don't need no steenking badges..." That includes a lot of childrens' stories that have now thankfully been banished.

    What it boiled down to was that if your skin was dark, or you were "foreign," your speech was rendered as "dialect" by some white person somewhere. Seeking kavya's question quoted verbatim somehow transports me back in time. Even the use of "sic" seems somehow to say, "I know this is a deviation from standard English. I just want you to know I didn't originate it, and I'm literate enough to know the difference."

    I almost (but not quite) think I might prefer just having the conversation related to me. Or, as an earlier commenter has said, throw the whole thing out and find a better way to cite Web comments.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That includes a lot of childrens' stories that have now thankfully been banished.

      I don't see what I have to be thankful for if media is getting censored left and right. The "thank goodness that's not around, because otherwise people might be influenced by it" attitude is as good as letting someone else determine what you should think.

    • by MostAwesomeDude ( 980382 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @10:22PM (#24258583) Homepage

      I suppose that it irritates you when British authors reproduce cockney or Scottish accents in their writing, too?

    • word.
      one can only hope that someday soon we'll banish such backwards and poisonous works as Huck Finn, For Whom The Bell Tolls or The Artificial Nigger.

      but in seriousness, i think you're conflating "dialect" prose with racism/classism.
      while they certainly sometimes go hand-in-hand, they're actually independent.

      the thing to keep your eye on is the author's overall portrayal of characters.

      re [sic], i agree with you: when used where the difference in grammar usage is obvious, it's assy.

    • by sgtrock ( 191182 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @10:36PM (#24258669)

      Where on earth did you get the impression that rendering dialect correctly had anything at all to do with skin color? Rendering dialect can be done to put someone down, it's true. However, writers with that kind of agenda typically don't have anything worthwhile to say anyhow.

      The truth is that people living in all kinds of places at all economic levels of society develop their own dialect. For example, did you ever read Kipling's "Captains Courageous?" Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn?" Henry Fielding's "Tom Jones?" Read any of Falstaff's scenes from Shakespeare's plays? See any 'people of color' being put down in any of those examples?

      To ignore dialect when writing or hide it is to ignore the rich and complex diversity that is the human race. It is to turn the orchestra of language into a single section of brass. It takes away the spice from written or spoken dialog. Don't hide from dialect, treat it as those great writers did. Celebrate it!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I've read each of the works you've cited, including all of Shakespeare's histories.

        The authors you mention were all able to render dialect with a carefully tuned ear and a determination to advance whatever story they had chosen to tell. And even so, two of those authors are in danger of being damned as politically incorrect.

        There's another whole category of dialect writers who choose to write in their own dialects and accents. Robert Burns comes to mind first, and American literature is also richly endowed

      • There are some... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jd ( 1658 )
        ...absolutely superb novels that accurately depict the different dialects in England. That has nothing to do with skin colour, origin, or ethnicity. Since it is typically the author's own dialect that is depicted accurately, it is very likely not prejudice against that region, either. Oh, certainly, I'd question some use of dialect, but even someone as prejudice as Enid Blyton did not use them maliciously. Oh, some American authors might, but even some of the best-known examples of American authors who have
    • by FLEB ( 312391 )

      I could see "verbatim" quoting of speech being a rude or derisive practice, as the specific embodiment of the words in print is that of the reporter, not the speaker, but this is a reprint of a set-in-typ, unambiguous and citable written quote. To reinterpret it while still maintaining it as a "quote" does a disservice to... well... reality. The options of paraphrase and short quotes are still there if you don't wish to call attention to the original poster's grammar style.

  • Square brackets (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hkmarks ( 1080097 ) on Saturday July 19, 2008 @10:10PM (#24258487)

    You can use square brackets to indicate a change for grammar or spelling, can't you? "How is babby formed? How girl get pragnent?" becomes "How is [a baby] formed? How [does a] girl get [pregnant]?"

    I would not change a written text without indicating so, ever. If it's reasonably clear and doesn't make the original look dumb or silly, don't change it.

    A (sic) always seemed to me like "Sigh, yes, I know it's spelled wrong. Don't blame me. It's their fault." It seems vaguely rude.

    • It IS vaguely rude. It's also elitist and narky.

      I love it!
    • You can also set the type differently, like in a blockquote. I guess there isn't one answer that works for everything. Who would have seen that coming?
      • I should clarify: I wasn't trying to knock the OP, who was dead on about using square brackets to make editorial changes. Just that it seems funny how people who've done a lot of writing are pointing out that there's other ways to handle this, while others are getting hung up on the use of [sic]. Yes it's snarky, and yes, there's alternatives. All of this is pointed out in TFA.

        Here's my system:
        Don't go out of your way to type out someone's dialect. Chances are, you'll get it wrong.
        Do quote verbatim when
  • When I was in J-school, it was made pretty clear to us: If there's a typo or misspelling and correcting it doesn't change the intent, fix it. If changing the quote to correct deficiencies in grammar, etc. would subtract from the reader's ability to understand or get a glimpse of the speaker's personality, don't change it. Not overly complicated.
  • as if a million grammar nazis cried out in torment and were silenced at once

  • Damn right they should quote verbatim. I'm sick of people saying proper grammar and spelling doesn't matter because "it's only the internet" - maybe if they think their illiterate scribble could be quoted in a national newspaper they'll take a little more care with it.

    (Mind you, I refused to send an SMS for 15-20 years until I finally got hold of a phone with a qwerty keyboard, so you're welcome to ignore me.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chrisje ( 471362 )

      > I refused to send an SMS for 15-20 years until I finally got hold of a phone with a qwerty keyboard,

      That's just plain stupid. I have never (and probably will never own) owned a phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, and I've been sending SMSes that are completely grammatically correct and spelled properly for the last ~12 years. The input method is no excuse. Similarly, I do not converse in "IM-language" on MSN or Jabber.

      Like my dear mother used to say: "Als iedereen in de sloot springt hoef jij het nog ni

  • But that makes kavya look like an idiot.

    It's not difficult to use a "spell checker". Everyone makes punctuation and grammar errors, but I think what we have to establish is "When is a phonetic use of the English language appropriate?" and thats because poorly smelt words validates that poor smelling.

    Sometimes it's laziness, haste or a typo but, I wonder how this discussion will change when use of voice recognition becomes commonplace for computer lusers?

  • to do way instain mothers who kill thier babbys because these babby can't frihgt back?
  • by doom ( 14564 ) <> on Sunday July 20, 2008 @01:54AM (#24259789) Homepage Journal
    Actually, it's an interesting question -- or as interesting as a style guide question ever gets. Myself, replying to people on usenet I long ago adopted to policy of correcting other people's spelling, and not inserting a "[sic]" (which seems kind of rude and pedantic). The one exception would be if I supsect that the person I'm replying to is such a jerk they might actually complain about not being quoted verbatim. And anyway, I don't often take the trouble to reply to someone who can't be bothered to use a spell checker...

    As far as print media is concerned, I would say it's required to quote them as is, though why I think different standards apply in either case, I couldn't tell you. One difference would be that if you're on-line it's usually relatively easy to thread your way back to the original if you really care.

  • Did no one notice the spelling error "rather that" in the summary? And started swearing at author? Amazing! This Internet thing you hear so much about these days might turn out to be a polite discussion forum after all.

  • The [www] tag would be used in place of [sic].

    Anytime someone quotes a web forum, blog, or otherwise, you could utilize the tag broadly or specifically. For example, at the being of an AC quote, just putting a single [www] would indicate everything you needed to know. However, if the post was well constructed with only one or two issues, you could use them in the appropriate places. Alternatively, we could use a [www] blah blah [/www] style standard to encase any quantity of [www] related ridiculousness.

    • by dj42 ( 765300 )

      In my case:

      "For example, at the [www]being[/www] of an AC quote, just putting a single [www] would indicate everything you needed to know."

The absent ones are always at fault.