The following passage comes from The American Journey (sixth edition), page 156. It's a quote of George F. Regas, addressing President George W. Bush (not in person). Notice the [sic] after the word preemptive, indicating some kind of misuse of the word or other kind of error.

But what's the error?

I googled this quote and got many hits. Other than the cited book, none use [sic].

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    @Marthaª It is not about the English language itself, but the context. Secondly, it is way too localized. – American Luke Sep 22 '12 at 22:10
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    @Luke: I fail to see your distinction. This question is asking what error there is in a particular passage. How is that not totally 100% absolutely on topic? Too localized, I could maybe see (except this is an interesting question that might help others); except that would be worth a close vote at worst, not all this downvote hate. – Marthaª Sep 22 '12 at 22:13
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    After looking at the answers and comments so far, I'm afraid I have to close this as "not constructive". Only the author himself can tell for sure why the sic is there. Three theories so far, all equally valid for all we know. I will even provide a fourth one for good measure: "I recommend just throwing sic in randomly when quoting one's enemies. Nobody will want to admit they don't know why it is there, and the damage is done." – RegDwigнt Sep 22 '12 at 22:23
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    The excerpt is from a current textbook, where six highly credentialed academics decided a [sic] was needed, indicating some kind of ENGLISH LANGUAGE mistake in the original passage. I did a bit of googling and asking around, but couldn't determine the error. I thought this site could help, and even find the question interesting. It's apparent that I don't understand the scope of this site, because I certainly don't understand this closing. – I. J. Kennedy Sep 22 '12 at 22:38
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    @I.J.Kennedy For those of us who are interested in the answer to this ("too localised") question, what is it? – Billy Oct 17 '12 at 2:53

Here is the exchange I had with Virginia Anderson, one of the authors of the book, but not the author that wrote the line in question. I wrote the author who did, Robert Weir, but he did not respond to my query.

Dear Dr. Anderson,

My son and I were studying your book, The American Journey (sixth edition), and came across the following quote on page 156 of chapter 6:

"Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive [sic] war is a failed doctrine."

and we were curious about the use of [sic]. A google search of this phrase, spoken by George F. Regas, turned up several hits, none of them including [sic]. At first we thought preemptive might have been an erroneous spelling, or even a malapropism, but dictionaries validate the word.

If you wouldn't mind, a short, edifying explanation? Thank you for your time.

Regards, Jack Kennedy

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

Many thanks for your email. I must confess that I am also puzzled by the "[sic]." I took over the revisions of chapters 5 and 6 of the textbook from Prof. Robert Weir beginning with the 6th edition, so he was actually the author of that "From Then to Now" essay. My best guesses are either that he thought the word should be hyphenated (pre-emptive), although the dictionaries I looked at didn't include a hyphenated version as the preferred one. Another possibility is that the so-called Bush Doctrine occasionally referred to "preventive war," and so that could be why Prof. Weir included the [sic].

I regret that I cannot give you a more definitive answer. The puzzle won't appear in the 7th edition, since I am writing a new "From Then to Now" essay for the 6th chapter.

Again, thanks for your question.

Best wishes,

Virginia DeJohn Anderson Professor Dept. of History 234 UCB University of Colorado Boulder, CO 80309-0234

  • Interesting! I'd guess that is probably it, preventive vs preemptive. – Cyberherbalist Oct 10 '13 at 23:34
  • Good follow-up work. This illustrates something that is easily overlooked, which is that "sic" is not only used acknowledge self-evident errors in the original text, but also to validate the presence of other inaccuracies. I think a footnote with the details that you discovered would have been in order, given its dubious origin as a hypothetical quote. – Canis Lupus Oct 10 '13 at 23:43

The only thing I can think of is that the editorial guidelines of this publication dictate a hyphen in pre-emptive. But if so, that's something they ought to silently add, not mark with [sic].

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    I concur. It's a quote of what the minister imagined Jesus saying (how many levels of reported speech is that?) and adding a hyphen in order to match house style doesn't change the quote. [sic] is an unnecessary affectation which simply causes readers to ask about it -- exactly as here. – Andrew Leach Sep 22 '12 at 22:15
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    I don't think that could be it, because the word occurred in an orally delivered sermon, not in a piece of writing. – I. J. Kennedy Sep 23 '12 at 0:22

Merriam-Webster defines preemptive as:

being or relating to a first military strike made to gain an advantage when a strike by the enemy is believed imminent

The author is highlighting preemptive to make the point, in the context of his thesis about the unpopularity of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, that a strike by Iraq against the US was not imminent (since Iraq lacked both the means and the inclination).

He's using [sic] to mock the use of preemptive in association with Bush's doctrine, and thus mocking Bush's doctrine overall.

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    I wondered if the authors might be making an editorial comment, but they are all professional scholars, and the book is a high school history text, so it seemed unlikely. – I. J. Kennedy Sep 22 '12 at 23:30
  • Hmm. It would be puzzling to see [sic] used to indicate that the editor thought preemptive to be in error, given that both Webster's and the Chicago Manual advocate the closed compound. – Gnawme Sep 23 '12 at 2:40
  • Usually, Preemptive attack means one that is to occur before the enemy strikes first. What was, in all likehood, the chance that Iraq would start a war against the USA? What event was being preempted by this attack? – SF. Oct 17 '12 at 11:08
  • @SF. My point (and Regas's) precisely. – Gnawme Oct 17 '12 at 21:47

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