I came into this world with nothing and will leave it with nothing. Everything I have learned in between, I owe to the academic giants upon whose shoulders I have viewed the horizon. However, it is not clear to me what the word ‘plagiarism’ actually means. I agree of course that if a student merely copies someone else’s writing and presents it as their own in a school or university exam, then that is wrong. But I still take a longer view that it is more fool they if they think by passing a test or exam by cheating they think they have somehow become more educated. If students who pass today will be caught out years later – that will punishment enough for them!
I am even less severe with politicians who may copy word for word some comment from a elegant speech made in the long past, which may well be very relevant to a modern situation. Words are merely words, after all and may belong to us all. Indeed I often quote Shakespeare without knowing his words have entered the common language.
The English Language
I, on the other hand, over my lifetime of 76 years, have learned my native language, starting with my mother in 1934, and then worked under excellent teachers who introduced me to the English grammar and the literature of Shakespeare and the King James’ Bible, and then moved on eventually to Plato, Aristotle, Newton, Boyle, Darwin, Einstein, and many others. So many in fact, that I absorbed the facts and forgot the names and indeed they never told me they were copying! This places me in an awkward position in making any argument either orally or in writing. I have no idea where my information comes from after over 70 years of learning.
So I can see that ‘plagiarism’ may be of concern to teachers and university professors, but I suspect teachers themselves are really concerned more with classroom discipline than learning, and university professors more with protecting their sources of income.
This is in my own English language, but one must wonder how and from whom I learned Spanish and French some 25 years ago. Is plagiarism not concerned with foreign languages? Should what I learned in English be translated to ensure I have copied nothing? No, that would be taking it too far. But of course, I must have learned a lot, which certainly I did not learn in English.
Writers of History
I am a great reader of historical biographies, and I have recently noticed that most university professors of history write excellent books on past famous figures.by copying past historians and writers. I delight in the research and study that has gone into the books that I really enjoy. I have no complaint, except that these experts seems to use published books from long ago and documents from the distant past that – given the new definition – they merely seem a rewrite or precis of available writing from the past, sometimes bringing old ideas up-to-date. I rather enjoyed a biography of St Joan of Arc recently, but noticed the transcripts of the original trial were in Latin and presumably belonged to the Church!
So you see, I am concerned that all we know over a lifetime comes from somewhere else, where it is often difficult to identify the source, usually third hand via a teacher or author and also complicated by the fact that copyright may have expired and yet ‘plagiarism’ is acceptable as long as one quotes the source.