The Third Leader: Cut and paste

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The Independent Online

Plagiarism. The taking and using as one's own of the thoughts, writing or inventions of another. Much discussed lately re Raj Persaud, psychiatrist, Vladimir Putin, President and sometime purveyor of an impressive economics dissertation, and every student whose finger has ever hovered shiftily over the "c" key.

A bit of a dodgy one, this. You might recall Tom Lehrer's advice: "Plagiarise, but only be sure always to call it, please, 'research'". And Wilson Mizner: "Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research". Ah, yes, satire; but, really, nothing is said nowadays that has not been said before: we are all wholesale borrowers.

Look at it this way: the bees pillage the flowers, but they make honey which is all their own. As Dean Inge, the 20th-century churchman, said: "What is originality? Undetected plagiarism." Excellent: you might detect, as well, a certain similarity to Voltaire's: "Originality is nothing but judicious plagiarism." But, again, is there no such thing as two men having similar thoughts on similar occasions?

Surely, too, an inadvertent failure to attribute is pardonable. I myself remember that a tutorial had almost elapsed before my tutor kindly reminded me of the sole source I was closely relying on. Leaving the best until now, I would also point out that, as we are in Iraq largely on the strength of the unacknowledged efforts of a postgraduate student, misplaced commas and all, plagiarism is a vital weapon in the war against terror. Thank you. Sorry? Oh, very well: The Oxford English Dictionary, Norman Vaughan, Terence, Wendell Phillips, Montaigne, S T Coleridge, and John 2:10.

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