In my junior year of college, when I was double-majoring in literature and history, I was accused of plagiarism by one of my history professors. I was a year into learning the hard way that writing for literature and writing for history on the academic level were polar opposite approaches–literature is written in active voice and history is written in passive–and because I loved literature first I focused on literature more.
The history class was an English history class, and the paper was about a poverty-stricken travelogue of Orwell’s of a title that escapes me now. In a fit of tired I wrote my paper on it as a literature student would, not a history student would. My professor, who didn’t like anyone much, thought my historical writing had “improved too quickly” and that I was “too good,” and therefore must have stolen it. I remember laughing for two reasons: that he would think the paper was good (since he thought awful writing was good), and that he thought I had improved. My mistake, of course, was laughing.
“Oh, you’re serious,” I said.
Then came going to the department head, who thought the paper was the same crap I had been turning in and didn’t like Orwell anyway, and telling my literature advisor about it, who read the paper and said, “Well, he’s half right–it’s really good, but it’s definitely yours.” Literature professors liked me, which means I always had to work twice as hard at history. Eventually, it became a minor, no longer a double-major.
University life is exhausting, even without the fraternity or sorority social life. I had no social life in college, but I was fine with that–I loved my subjects. I worked full time as a corporate instructor and took a full course load. I only watched television between semesters, and most of those were awful movies like the “Lethal Weapon” series, just to flush out my system. I was extremely strapped for time. And yet I never robbed another writer of their words, and I would not have been able to think of a scenario where it was acceptable.
When someone like Rand Paul or that college guy featured in the Jezebel.com blog post state that they plagiarize because it saves time, I’m reminded of other crimes: single riders who get in the commuter lane on the double-lines because they have to go faster and they have to go faster at a risk to someone who is already justifiably in that lane, or folks who can’t be bothered with a hands-free connection because it takes longer to talk that way. Lawlessness starts out as a shortcut, lacking in shame because we’re supposed to wish we could do that and get away with it.
I don’t ever want to get away with plagiarism, even if I were to be haunted by Bradley Cooper for it.
I’ve been plagiarized: a couple of times in high school, and at my current workplace. (A testimony to the maturity of where I work, I’m sure.) Both times I was a mixture of flattered, annoyed, and saddened.
Can’t be bothered to create with words? “I pity the fool.” (Mr. T)