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A Stunt Explained

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The response to my essay on plagiarism last week (“Where Have I Read That Before?”) was swift, so here goes: Yes, it is plagiarized. Ninety- nine percent of it. The only original lines, in fact, are the first and the last two. After reading the endless stories about the Kaavya Viswanathan plagiarism case, I thought, Wow, at this rate, someone’s going to write a piece about plagiarism that’s going to turn out to be plagiarized. Then I thought, Why don’t I write that? The idea was just to put it out there to see how long it took for people to notice—and whether anyone thought it was a genuine piece of plagiarism. Michael David Smith wrote to Jim Romenesko 25 minutes after the media blogger linked to the article.

The words—Googled and Nexised by a gracious editorial assistant—are those of Samuel G. Freedman, Ruth Marcus, Jack Shafer, Malcolm Gladwell, James Poniewozik, Joseph Epstein, various bloggers, and reporters from the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and others. A section was also taken from Thomas Mallon’s well-known study of plagiarism, Stolen Words.

Readers might be interested to know that the short, original sentences took as long to write (after much trial and error) as the rest of it took to assemble. Which suggests that no matter how intricate a piece of plagiarism is, it’s always easier to appropriate someone else’s words than to come up with one’s own.


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