The most delicate of writerly tasks is not navigating the thorny issues of race or sex or religion, but the vicious scourge of one’s own craft.
Judging by recent press coverage, plagiarism is on the rise and it’s an equal-opportunities offender. From Marxist philosophers and US senators to online reporters and their esteemed print colleagues, the whole lot seem to be stealing ideas and words and, yes, getting caught. Cue shivers down the spines of ivory-tower occupants and newsroom hacks.
But how does someone write about the sins of one’s brethren? Well, while the Prince had Machiavelli, fellow essayists – you have me.
The writer of a plagiarism essay must first take a deep breath and suppress that cauldron of schadenfreude from bubbling onto the page. Honest writers are surely happy once their dishonest cousins have been snared but even the dishonest enjoy it when others get caught at their own game. And it’s a zero-sum game, of course.
Be warned, dear writer: a preening public glee at another’s journalistic misery will come back to bite. Few want a target on their back. The internet hordes will attack. Your canon of work will be pored over, diced up and exposed. Be eggshell-crushingly careful, friend. When writing an essay on plagiarism, keep perspective. They’ve stolen words, not children.
Be confident in your quotation marks. Double in America, alternating ones in German, and pointy things in French.
When writing about plagiarism avoid the word “millennial”. Don’t overuse “digital natives”. Shy away from separating “web site” into two words and surely don’t capitalise the W. The New Yorker style is not your style – don’t plagiarise the plagiarism essay. And if you get caught explain it was your plan all along. They’ve proven your point.
Dear writer, originality is not just rare, it’s impossible. You’re building on the shoulders of giants, which is cool, and something that someone once said. But originality is still a goal and a worthy one. Buckle up and be careful. God speed.
Daniel Giacopelli is a producer for Monocle 24