June 4, 2017

"I'm trying really hard to understand how this kind of appropriation without attribution is *not* a form of plagiarism."

"When you take someone else's ideas, their original work, and pass it off as your own ... yeah, that's what plagiarism is. I'm just ... trying to find a way around this. 'It's just a crossword' is the only defense I can imagine, and as you can imagine, I find that defense fantastically pathetic."

Rages Rex Parker, about the Sunday NYT crossword, which, he finds, lifted a bunch of — SPOILER ALERT — writing rules that break themselves (like "No sentence fragments").

He points us to a William Safire column published in the NYT in 1979:
Not long ago, I advertised for perverse rules of grammar, along the lines of “Remember to never split an infinitive” and “The passive voice should never be used.”

The notion of making a mistake while laying down rules (“Thimk,” “We Never Make Misteaks”) is highly unoriginal, and it turns out that English teachers have been circulating lists of fumblerules for years.

As owner of the world's largest collection, and with thanks to scores of readers, let me pass along a bunch of these never‐say‐neverisms....
So... Safire admitted the idea wasn't at all original, and he didn't write the examples but collected them from readers and passed them on. It was a cornball old English-teacher joke when Safire padded his column with this stuff in 1979. It's silly to think that we need to honor William Safire because he's the one that had the NYT column that became the place where this dusty old junk remained visible after 40 years. In any case, it's all so infra-NYT that I can't feel much outrage, but then I pretty much loathe crossword themes, especially when humor is involved. And I do the NYT crossword every day. I like interesting and unusual words. Themes... bleh. But I can see why Rex gets mad. He's all about demanding that the NYT puzzle live up to its own claims of greatness. And this wasn't great. "Plagiarism" was the least of it. I thought I'd enjoy jumping back into the world of William Safire, but the best I can say about that is that he admitted he was writing a lazy, unoriginal column.

ADDED: It's the kind of dumb humor that easily signaled — in 1976 — that Travis Bickle's date was horribly awkward:



"Organizized — it's a joke!"

27 comments:

rhhardin said...

There's nothing wrong with splitting infinitives, though that particular one is unidiomatic. The thing you are not to do would be kept whole and modified with "not" before it.

rhhardin said...

To err is human, to really err is liberal.

robother said...

The Crossword humorist--I've got HIM on the list
There's none of them be missed, no, none of them be missed.

Laslo Spatula said...

Travis Bickle Does a Crossword...

Seven Down: a river in New York. I drive these streets, I see the crime and decay and shit in the gutters, I know what's coming. River of BLOOD, that's it. The River of Blood is coming, and they know it, they know it's coming...

Ah Fuck. The answer is six letters. The river of 'Bloody' maybe? Nah, that can't be right. PEOPLE are bloody, the river is BLOOD. I fucking thought that was it, man, I fucking thought BLOOD was it...

River in New York. Hmmm. When I drive around I only see the scum of society floating down the sidewalks, the hookers and the pimps and the guys who'll snatch your wallet and run off like rabbits...

Hookers! That's it! HOOKERS! Wait. That's seven letters. A River of HOOKER, maybe? Nah, that ain't right. It takes more than one hooker to make a river,,,

What's another word for HOOKERS... yeah, what else do they call whores? Ah, that was too easy! WHORES! And THAT is six letters! The River of Whores, flooding the streets in their short skirts and sunglasses, smelling of desperation and menthol cigarettes. I'm gonna write that in...

I am Laslo.

CBCD said...

She is eating with her elbows on the table. That's painful for me to watch.

Laslo Spatula said...

Travis Bickle Does a Crossword...

Fourteen Across: another name for a politician. Four letters. Ah, that's easy. SCUM is four letters. The politicians here are fucking scum, letting the streets flow with the refuse of hookers and pimps, as long as they get paid by the right people...

Shit. PIMP is four letters, too. This is gonna be a harder than I thought. Are politicians more SCUM than a PIMP? I'm not even sure how to tell the difference on this one: Pimps are Scum, and politicians are scummy pimps. THEY are the ones that let the hookers walk the streets freely with the fucking diseases between their legs...

So: does Fourteen Down begin with an 'S' or a 'P'? Fourteen Down: What is found downtown, sometimes...

I drive through these downtown streets, I see the piss and shit in the alleys and the gutters... That's it! SHIT! SHIT begins with an 'S'. SHIT and SCUM: it works...!

Wait: PISS works, too. PIMP and PISS. Damn, they make these crosswords hard. I'm gonna have to figure out more letters...

I am Laslo.

John said...

What happens when you don’t know who said it firsy? Who do you attribute it to?

In my classes I had my students say "as someone once said" or as "the expression goes" any time they used something unoriginal with them.

I was hell on plagiarism giving an F on the paper for a first offense.

John Henry

Laslo Spatula said...

Travis Bickle Does a Crossword...

Twenty-six down: Black Americans were once called this. Begins with an 'N'...

Hmmm, Ah, that's too easy. Wait. NIGGER is six letters, and there's only space for five. Damn, these crosswords are tricky...

What else were Black Americans called? Jigaboos? Tar babies? Jungle Bunnies? Fuck, none of those are five letters, and they don't begin with an 'N', either...

Damn. It's GOT to be NIGGER. Maybe they made the crossword wrong: there was supposed to be another square but they fucked it up. Nah, it's the New York Times: they don't screw up anything...

Shit. I can't think of another five-letter word for a fucking Negro beginning with an 'N'. I'll have to come back to this one...

I am Laslo.

tcrosse said...

Sunday Times Crossword Puzzle Song

Etienne said...

My rule is to never plagiarize anything for money or grades.

All other times are completely acceptable, and encouraged.

One of my favorite pastimes is to attribute funny quotes to people who might never say that because of their pride of invention.

"Heap memory is the arena for fantastic demolition derbies." D. Ritchie

For the non-nerd in C language programs, inexperienced programmers often crash the heap memory into the stack memory, causing a "blue screen of death". Dennis Ritchie invented C, and would probably never admit he designed a way for hackers to take over the world.

Phil 3:14 said...

I don't think Travis Bickle would do crossword puzzles.

But he would be a blogger.

Phil 3:14 said...

But I would love Lazlo to write a satire script for the comedy version of Taxi Driver.

PS Did the dark film "Taxi Driver" inspire the sitcom "Taxi"?

Virtually Unknown said...

I used to say "C is like a bottle of whiskey and DOS is like a loaded gun." But I like yours.

tcrosse said...

Years ago I had written some code for a consulting gig. The client asked what language I had used. "C", says I. "How do you spell that?", says he. I am not making this up.

Bill Peschel said...

Had to think about his contention, and after finding the original puzzle with the clues, I'd have to say he's full of shit.

Using someone else's ideas does not constitute plagiarism. If I write a novel about a stubborn, beautiful Southern woman on a plantation during the Civil War, I am not plagiarizing "Gone With the Wind." Especially if she falls in love with a black slave's [CENSORED] [CENSORED] [CENSORED] (h/t Laslo for his brilliant "Taxi Driver"/NYT crossword mashup).

There's also the nature of crossword puzzle clues. They're limited to a few clues to get the point across. And proscriptions such as "no split infinitives" and "avoid the passive voice," are so common that attributing them to Safire wold be silly (and both "rule" really shouldn't be followed. Infinitives have been split since Shakespeare, and there a good reason why the PV was invented.

In fact, most of these rules are stupid. I'd say that following them would contribute to the downfall of the written word, except that most people don't get enough practice in school with writing, and on the other end there's fake jargon and doublespeak to worry about.

Earnest Prole said...

Without plagiarism there would be no culture. And no, you don't need to cite me when you repeat that.

Notwithstanding that, I still don't understand how plagiarism applies to crossword puzzles. Is he saying it would be plagiarism to have a puzzle composed of, say, words from the titles of Beatles songs?

Marc Puckett said...

I often give Laslo's fiction a pass but this Travis Bickle crossword one is amusing.

Mark said...

The writing's on the wall: There is nothing new under the sun.

Probably 99 percent of people would not be able to correctly cite the sources of these two phrases/ideas, yet there is no need to bust them on it.

In fact, EVERY SINGE WORD you write or utter, someone else said first, someone else came up with the original thought. At some point, not very far down the road, what is said and written becomes public domain, not simply in the legal sense, but morally and ethically too.

Mary Beth said...

That's not plagiarism, that's "sampling".

linsee said...

*Please* don't spoiler the NYTimes crossword. I do it every day, too but I get up a lot later than you do!

Molly said...

What was the clue for the answer: "overgo"?

LordSomber said...

From what I've read, the "no split infinitive" rule comes from Latin, and that there's not really a reason for this rule to carry over into English.
Just a thought.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think only indirectly from Latin - my memory is that infinitives are/were typically single words, like most other verb forms. My guess is that when translated into English, they were two words, kept together to make clear that the "to" indicated an infinitive, and wasn't being used as a preposition.

rhhardin said...

There's bare infinitives and to-infinitives.

It means that the verb is not finite, which means it's not carrying a tense.

rhhardin said...

Subjects of infinitives are in the objective case, probably a carryover from Latin indirect statement (whose verb is an infinitive and whose subject is in the accusative).

Subjects of to-infinitives are marked with "for" and diagrammers will incorrectly analyze it as a prepositional phrase.

Subjects of bare infinitives will be incorrectly be analyzed as objects of other verbs.

For him to come is allowed. (to-)

Let him come. (bare)

rhhardin said...

Subjects of any nonfinite verb are in the objective case, for that matter.

Him coming is allowed.

Mark said...

Subjects of infinitives are in the objective case, probably a carryover from Latin indirect statement (whose verb is an infinitive and whose subject is in the accusative).

Yeah, I don't know what any of that means.

In communication, there is only one real rule -- Did you convey the idea you meant to convey in a way that was understandable and complete? If so, mission accomplished, to hell with subjects and infinitives and prepositions and passive voice -- whatever those things mean.