The “nonsense” above means something to me personally. It’s a pun which, depending on your perspective, might seem obscure. The very topic of obscure puns is interesting to me because it leads to some questions about communication that I’ve always struggled with. An obscure pun, just like an uncommon word, can make someone who doesn’t “get it” feel left out: puns can be annoying and sometimes intimidating. Although I love wordplay and engage in it daily at Quadrivial Quandary, I don’t have the kind of encyclopedic, Jeapordy-player sort of mind that would make it easy for me to “get” many common puns when I first hear them, and so I’m quite familiar with being on the “Please, not another pun!” side of a conversation. On the other hand, I find that if a speaker takes the time to explain the context of an obscure pun, this can be a very powerful way to connect with that person. It’s interesting to see meaning emerge as I come to understand more and more of what someone “actually meant” by something. The challenge in writing, of course, is that too much explanation can be equally irritating, and one never knows quite how much to offer.

I’ve become intrigued by the idea of putting some obscure puns “in the spotlight” by rendering them as images with engaging typography. This brings a visual dimension into the experience of considering a pun, and for me at least, makes the whole thing more interesting.

The example above is a play on the editor’s notation “sic” which is short for the Latin “Sic erat scriptum,” which means “Thus it had been written.” Sic is used to indicate that a mistake in quoted text was present in the original (i.e. it’s not a typo by the author who’s using the quote). In my example, there’s something “funny” about how sic is written. Since I spend a lot of time writing software, I’m extremely conscious of mismatched parentheses, and I view them as something to be corrected immediately–the urge to “fix” them is practically primal. So, when I view the image above I want to correct it, but then I realize that it has a kind of self-referential accuracy to it. The word sic is calling out an error, and indeed there is an error in that extra paren on the left. If we were to remove that paren, what then would the error be? Sic would just be dangling on its own, or referring to something not shown. I suppose it could be seen as an error to write “(sic)” where there is no error, so “(sic)” could be referring to itself, but that interpretation is too obscure for me. I need to have a visible error to “anchor” the pun.

I also enjoy the multiplicity of possible interpretations. Yes, “((sic)” could be saying “I’ve been written wrong–I’ve got an extra paren on me left.” But here’s another way of seeing it: What if that paren was there in the first place, just dangling on its own, in a state of mismatchedness? Then someone wrote “(sic)” right beside the open left paren to helpfully point out that “(” had been written in error?

So, what’s fun for me about this example is that it challenges my own inclination to label something as wrong. I see the unbalanced parens and I think “Wrong!” but then I become aware of a different explanations which make me think “Wait, it’s OK. It works!” I don’t have “space” to address this fully here, but the same kind of play between “wrong” and “right” is what I find provocative in art, and what I seek in my own photographic and musical work: something about the image or sound startles you, makes you think it might be “wrong” and then you come to see the logic in it.

The example below fuses a “sic joke” with “italics mine.” It appears that “Italics mine” had been misspelled as “Ital mine” and [sic] was put in there to point out the error.  (In so doing, it gives us the same letters we’d need to correct the error, just in a scrambled order.)  But notice how the text of “(Italics mine)” surrounds, even engulfs the italicized “sic.” What is “italics mine” actually trying to say here? It could be saying “I’ve just italicized the letters of sic.” Or it could be saying “Look, I surround sic, I own the italicized sic, I own the error!”


I got the idea for (ital[sic] mine) when my friend Robin suggested that I do a followup to my post on italics mine with something about sic. When she sent me this suggestion, she wrote “sic erat scriptum” as follows:

sic (erat scriptum)


If you like sic, you’ll love this Corrected Dictionary. ■

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