1. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    Stealing other people's words

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by hvb, Apr 13, 2014.

    OK: I am reading a novel and come across a particular phrase that makes me sit up and take notice because it is so precise, or beautifully put or original; in fact, I wish I had written it.
    I feel like making a note of that and maybe use it myself sometime in the future.
    Am I plagiarising or am I just learning from others?
    hvb
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Depends. If you just like a metaphor or a simile, I don't think there's much ownership there. But if you are talking about a longer passage, I wouldn't do it.
     
  3. James Joyce
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    James Joyce Member

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    You can borrow lines, if you want. In fact, it is considered, at least to me, paying respect to the person who originally said it. You're making a reference to it. If it's a whole passage, then don't, but if it's a line or two, I don't see the evil.
     
  4. Laze
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    Laze Active Member

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    Copying it word for word is plagiarism, yes. It's actually not uncommon for professional writers to avoid reading novels whilst they're writing their own, in order to avoid doing what you did in the instance you described.

    I personally would feel disgusted at myself if I resorted to using someone else’s words in my work. If I may be blunt, come up with your own material or don't bother.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That depends on how unique the line is and on the use of it. If you were to begin a novel with, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" and you were writing a novel about the French Revolution, I don't think you could get away with that. But if your novel was satire, something along the line of 'Scary Movie' for example, it should fall into fair use.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I agree. What I've done on occasion is copy a phrase into a notebook for inspiration, not to copy. For example I liked a description I read where the long lawn was described up to the house and how it continued, blending with the ivy climbing the walls. I don't remember now the book or the exact words, just that I liked the idea. It's in my idea book, but definitely I would not write anything with even remotely similar words.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Copying someone else's wording and passing it off as your own is plagiarism. That remains true even if there is no practical way to prove and enforce it.
     
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  8. Laze
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    Laze Active Member

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    Well that's different. That's you, trying to savour the imagery someone else's words invoked in your head, so that you yourself can describe said imagery in your own.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    So out of curiosity, do you believe that applies to reusing a metaphor or simile?
     
  10. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless you're quoting them (and doing so correctly), it's plagiarism.

    "The duplication of an author's words without quotation marks and accurate references or footnotes."

    http://definitions.uslegal.com/p/plagiarism/
     
  11. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    Thanks all. I wish I had written it down so I could use a concrete sample. Y'all seem to think I am referring to whole sentences, or even paragraphs, while I was referring to a single word or a very short phrase consisting out of two or three words, that described something in a way I had not read or heard before.
    Maybe an example: we all know the description 'carrot top' for someone with red hair. Probably falls into the cliché category now. But someone, somewhere had to use that term for the first time. Did the second person who used it plagiarise it?
    Language is a beautiful and exciting thing. Look at the new words appearing in the Oxford Dictionary each year. Think of advertising slogans that have become part of our idiom.
    'Just do it!'. Here in Australia 'Not Happy Jan' is still being used in everyday language, years after it was used in a Yellow Pages ad.
    The word 'selfie' also originated in Australia, when a bloke got drunk, fell down, hurt his face and took a photo of himself to email to a mate. Some might frown on these expressions turning up in our daily language, but to me, that just proves how dynamic language is.
    This is not a defence of plagiarism, but it is a recognition of the fluidity of our language. Words, expressions and short phrases will continue to come and go.
    Meanwhile, I will keep a notebook handy, if only, like some others have suggested, to inspire me.
    hvb
     
  12. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    Aren't we all just using words other people invented?
     
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  13. Pelion
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    Pelion New Member

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    Every idea comes from another idea. To gain a new insight on an old one, that's a good direction to go in. You can write an entire paragraph with a line in mind, then simply replace and it won't seem that different. If you can't replace it, then keep it. Don't use more than what you're willing to be ashamed for.

    It's easier to do a job right, then to explain why you didn't
    . - Abraham Lincoln.
     
  14. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    Really! Some author's take years to complete their novels. Would any writer (in their right mind or otherwise) avoid reading other author's works just to eliminate the possibility of plagiarism? Don't they allow themselves any down-time? You've made a very odd statement. In my experience: reading fuels the writing.
     
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  15. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Didn't we just see this thread? No really like just in the last week or two? Something about copying and pasting interesting word choices?

    IMO, using them to learn from is cool, but copying them out-right is plagiarism, especially if the expressions are new, fresh, and unique. People quote Shakespeare without even knowing it, so using one of his coinages may be seen as a form of homage (if it's noticed) depending on how you use it.
     
  16. Laze
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    Laze Active Member

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    A quote from #1 New York times bestselling author, Karen Traviss:

    Illogical fury, she nailed it.

    I do admit it was wrong of me to use many, I shouldn't have included a word to suggest on the number of authors who don't read whilst writing, because I honestly have no clue.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2014
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  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend away from books that are too similar to what I'm working on, but I definitely still read while writing. Can't imagine not.
     
  18. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    As I mentioned in the other thread, it depends on the sentence. The sentence
    is, in my opinion, so common that no one is going to accuse you of plagiarism. On the other hand, something like
    which is the first sentence of Finnegan's Wake, will certainly draw accusations of plagiarism.

    Regarding Shakespeare, some of his passages are used so often in common speech that I don't think most people will accuse you of plagiarizing. These phrases have essentially become a part of our everyday language. How do we know whether something is part of our everyday language or not? And who decides that? I have absolutely no clue.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!

    of course!... why would it matter what you call the usurped wording?... if the phrase/sentence/combination of words originated with someone else, it's not your own, thus is plagiarism...
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If you consider it plagiarism to use a metaphor that originated with another author, how do you decide if it is their own or a metaphor in common use?
     
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  21. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    A very good question. If we had to ensure we weren't plagiarising anyone's work, we would have to track that smilies or metaphor to its origins. A daunting task.
     
  22. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    The title of this thread is your answer. You're purposely stealing; you're plagiarizing. You're definitely not "learning from others" if you're just writing something down word-for-word. Learning from others would be if you took something and made it different to make it your own, or if you're inspired to write in a new way because of how that author phrased things. Taking it word-for-word just because you liked how it sounds, that's plagiarizing.

    As to how to decide if metaphors are in common use or not, I would look at it this way: if it's so original that it jumps out at you as something you wished you'd used, then it's probably not that common. Now sometimes you'll make up something that you think is original, and maybe it's not. Probably someone, somewhere, has used it, but that's more of an accidental plagiarism, and I wouldn't even call that plagiarism.

    If you're purposely taking something verbatim, then it can't be anything but plagiarism.
     
  23. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Depends on your purpose and wording.
    Here's the first part of Edgar Allen Poe's Annabelle Lee -
    It was many and many a year ago,
    In a kingdom by the sea,
    That a maiden there lived whom you may know
    By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
    And this maiden she lived with no other thought
    Than to love and be loved by me.

    Here's some lines from Nabokov's Lolita - Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea.

    He goes on to further pay homage by naming a character Annabel and having her die as well.

    Get inspired, pay homage - no one creates in a vacuum - just be careful.
     
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  24. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    In another thread here, I referred to my 'short little span of attention'. The casual reference to a Paul Simon lyric was intentional. Am I a plagiarist?
     
  25. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    It sounds like you weren't trying to pass it off as your own, so I'd so no.
     

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