How Do We Learn to Plagiarize?

Don't quote me, but I think everything might be plagiarized.How do we learn to plagiarize? I don't mean the deliberate, word-for-word theft of others' writing so much; I'm thinking about the involuntary regurgitation of catchy words and phrases harvested during the course of everyday life. Yeah, I know. That isn't really plagiarism; it's just the unavoidable result of absorption. It's normal. Get over it.

Sooner or later you slam into the unavoidable conclusion: there are only so many useful words to work with, and only so many ways to hook them up. Some of those ways seem more creative, more original than others. But are they, really? I mean, hasn't it all been done before?

I think so, and it eats at me as much as ever. Originality is important; creativity is the thing. About three weeks ago, the idea of dancing in the shadow of the wind seemed to have come from a brief phrase uttered by someone—on the phone, as I recall—who was in the process of moving her plants out of harm's way due to an approaching storm. She was, as she half-jokingly put it, moving her plants into the shadow of the wind.

As it turns out, there was a reason she used that particular phrase on that particular day, and it had everything to do with the title of a book that had imbedded itself in her mind the night before, probably during the course of a PBS program she saw on TV. That's all it took, really. From there, the catchy phrase jumped into my brain, and thence to my fingers, where—with the addition of the dancing word—it morphed into the title of a blog post. Scary.

Not that the idea was completely original in the first place, of course. There are gobs of references to the concept of wind shadows, and it isn't like you can copyright an idea anyway. That's what patents are for. But still, it bothers me that the phrase should have come on the heels of a book title, and perhaps more to the point, that I was so unaware of the connection. Ignorance, they say, is bliss, and it ain't bad for swiping catchy phrases, either.


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