In the book Infinite Jest, why is “sic” included in this sentence on p. 11?

grammar snob with a limited understanding of language
***
Leah Earl is likely correct, though the sic may reflect David Foster Wallace's prejudices rather than those of his characters. DFW has a reputation of being a bit of a grammar snob with a limited understanding of language [1] [2] [3]. His specific gripe here concerns the supposed misplacing of only. That this is a gripe rather than a genuine grammatical issue is revealed by three observations (noted by Fowler in 1926):
1. The risk of misunderstanding is negligible.
2. Avoiding the supposed misplacing requires genuine effort.
3. The ambiguity does not even arise in speech since the intonation reveals which part of the phrase is being modified: "he can only remember saying something caustic" is pronounced differently from "he can only remember saying something caustic".
This isn't the only example of misplaced prescriptivism in DFW's novels. Another example, from McCain's Promise, is:

> ” […] and then on Wednesday AM on TV at the Embassy Suites in Charleston there’s now an even more aggressive ad that [senior strategist] Murphy’s gotten McCain to let him run, which new ad accuses Bush of unilaterally violating the handshake-agreement and going Negative and then shows a nighttime shot of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.’s famous facade with its palisade of blatantly ejaculatory fountains in the foreground and says ‘Can America afford another politician in the White House that we can’t trust?,’ about which nobody mentions the grammatical problems but Frank C. says that the shot of the White House is really going low with the knife, and that if McCain loses South Carolina it may very well be because of this ad […]”

>

>

Answer by Uri Granta:

Leah Earl is likely correct, though the sic may reflect David Foster Wallace's prejudices rather than those of his characters. DFW has a reputation of being a bit of a grammar snob with a limited understanding of language [1] [2] [3]. His specific gripe here concerns the supposed misplacing of only. That this is a gripe rather than a genuine grammatical issue is revealed by three observations (noted by Fowler in 1926):
  1. The risk of misunderstanding is negligible.
  2. Avoiding the supposed misplacing requires genuine effort.
  3. The ambiguity does not even arise in speech since the intonation reveals which part of the phrase is being modified: "he can only remember saying something caustic" is pronounced differently from "he can only remember saying something caustic".
This isn't the only example of misplaced prescriptivism in DFW's novels. Another example, from McCain's Promise, is:
” […] and then on Wednesday AM on TV at the Embassy Suites in Charleston there’s now an even more aggressive ad that [senior strategist] Murphy’s gotten McCain to let him run, which new ad accuses Bush of unilaterally violating the handshake-agreement and going Negative and then shows a nighttime shot of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.’s famous facade with its palisade of blatantly ejaculatory fountains in the foreground and says ‘Can America afford another politician in the White House that we can’t trust?,’ about which nobody mentions the grammatical problems but Frank C. says that the shot of the White House is really going low with the knife, and that if McCain loses South Carolina it may very well be because of this ad […]”
The sentence in bold, which DFW claims is ungrammatical, is perfectly grammatical, and in fact any attempt to 'fix' it would introduce genuine ambiguity. See Your modifier’s misplaced, but mine’s fine for more.

[1] Led astray by the no-split-infinitives fetish

[2] DO YOU MAKE ANY OF THESE EMBARASSING MISTAKES?!

[3] DAVID FOSTER WALLACE DEMOLISHED.

In the book Infinite Jest, why is "sic" included in this sentence on p. 11?

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