Just words: Is it plagiarism, homage, or business as usual when public figures "forget" to footnote?

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Feb 22 17:25:03 UTC 2008

On Feb 22, 2008, at 6:31 AM, Dave Wilton wrote:

> I think it's useful to make a distinction between phrasing that is
> communally used and phrasing that is associated with a particular
> individual. The latter is potentially a more serious offense. The
> former
> isn't an offense at all.

a further wrinkle: there's no offense in using expressions (quoted or
paraphrased or played on, snowclone-fashion) from particular people if
you can expect that most people will know the source.  you don't have
to attribute "with malice toward none" and the like.

a problem arises when you use an expression that is attributable to a
specific person, and you know this, and this attribution isn't widely
known, and the expression is especially effective or in some way
memorable, and you don't give any attribution -- thus implicitly
taking credit yourself for the turn of phrase.

there are, of course, complexities at each stage.  unconscious
quotation is particularly easy.  you might not realize you heard it
somewhere, or it might seem vaguely familiar but you have no idea
where you might have heard it.

so there's plenty of gray area here, but area that's pretty far from
the instances of plagiarism that trouble teachers so much.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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