“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” Charles Caleb Colton
Yesterday I began my post like this: “Yesterday. Worcester Art Museum.” I realized as I was typing it that I was borrowing the style of Mark at the Idiot Speaketh who often begins posts in a similar manner.
While I feel that I have my own style, I often change it up a bit, inspired by the fabulous writers I read here each day or by something I am reading. My style also often differs depending on what I’m writing. I can write an academic tome using appropriate terminology and ethos, utilizing current trends in jargon and theory. (Perhaps that sentence wasn’t the most titillating example of academic verbiage, but I’m running on about 4 hours of sleep). I can write professional sounding requests and letters. I can write in the voice of the young. I sometimes channel Dr. Seuss. I am still learning, however, and still trying to master the art of description and metaphorical wordplay. Sometimes I attempt to write in the style of someone else I admire, because those attempts help me strengthen my own voice.
To me that is imitation at its sincerest.
However, there is a fine line between imitation and plagiarism. Well, it’s not really that fine. But, something happened that made me wonder, is plagiarism simply another form of flattery?
My regular readers should know that I usually participate in the 100 Word Challenge for adults. I find myself playing with voice and style with those challenges, because to me the variety helps me learn and grow with the challenge. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a poem that was written in a child’s voice, because there was supposed to be crossover between the children’s 100 word challenge and the adult. I enjoyed writing that piece and was pretty proud of it.
Yesterday, I visited the children’s challenge page, to find a featured poem (each week a few of the kid’s entries are featured to help encourage more writing). As I started reading, I thought to myself This sounds strangely familiar.
Well, it should. It was my poem with a few words changed.
Now, I’m not writing this to embarrass the student who did it, or attack anyone. I am writing out of sadness, as I see plagiarism too often in a world with instant access to so much material. I’m also, oddly enough, feeling flattered. I mean, really, the idea that this boy thought the poem was strong enough to be his voice is kind of cool.
So has plagiarism become the sincerest form of flattery?
The question remains how to handle the problem. If it was a college student, I’d call him on it. However, the whole concept behind these challenges is encouraging students to write and read and express themselves. I don’t want to discourage this child from trying again. It is not really my decision what happens from here, but is something worth thinking about.
Too many students nowadays attempt to take short cuts. I’m not sure the reasons why. Perhaps the pressure we put on them is too great. Perhaps they are lazy. Perhaps the access to any information you want has made the need to think and challenge yourself passé.
Yesterday I worried about posting a photograph from an artist, and made sure I attributed it to him. Today I find myself wondering, where are the lines between borrowing and stealing?