I was going back over yesterday’s post, and something sounded familiar about this paragraph:
A very careless plagiarist takes someone else’s work and copies it verbatim: “The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”. A more careful plagiarist takes the work and changes a few words around: “The mitochondria is the energy dynamo of the cell”. A plagiarist who is more careful still changes the entire sentence structure: “In cells, mitochondria are the energy dynamos”. The most careful plagiarists change everything except the underlying concept, which they grasp at so deep a level that they can put it in whatever words they want – at which point it is no longer called plagiarism.
After rereading it a few times, it hit me. A few days ago, I’d come across this quote from Miss Manners:
There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection IS the entertainment, we no longer call it dating.
I laughed at it, I thought it was great, and I stored it in my head as the sort of thing I should quote at some point in order to sound witty.
And although I wasn’t consciously thinking about it at the time, I’m sure the last sentence of my paragraph comes from the last sentence of Miss Manners’. It would be easy to dismiss it as a coincidence, it probably seems like a coincidence to you, I can’t explain how I know that the one comes from the other, but when I replay in my mind the process that made me write that, it’s obvious that it did.
This sort of thing happens to me all the time. It’s just that it’s especially ironic when it happens in a paragraph about plagiarism, in a post about how writers blend everything they’ve read into a slurry and spew it out, somewhat transformed. I wrote that “the difference is how finely you blend”, and this is a not-so-rare example of my blending so coarsely that identifiable chunks of my sources have ended up in my own text.
Sometimes I identify turns of phrase that I’ve picked up from other people. Other times it’s more subtle; a style, a way of looking at the world, a method of reasoning. All of these are just different levels of pattern. My writing style is a slurry of the writing styles of everyone I’ve read and enjoyed, with some pieces chunkier than others. I think my worldview and my reasoning style are too, it’s just less obvious.