May 29, 2005

How easy it is to be original!

RLC muses about how the internet puts so much writing so close at hand that it makes everybody seem like a plagiarist. You write something, and it can be Googled, and then you can find out how it's all been said before. He fends off despair with various justifications, then one of his commenters takes a bunch of phrases from the post, Googles them, and demonstrates that, in fact, almost nothing has been said before, even the most ordinary-seeming phrases. Quite surprisingly, it seems that by writing a phrase longer than three words, you've likely written something original (which is why you can find real plagiarists so easily on the Internet).

Test it out:
"puts so much writing so close at hand" -- Google finds nothing.

"so much writing so close at hand" -- nothing.

"so much writing so close" -- nothing.

"writing so close" -- 51 hits. Not much really for three common words.

"by writing a phrase longer than three words" -- nothing.

"a phrase longer than three words" -- nothing!

"longer than three words" -- 343.

"He fends off despair" -- nothing!

"then you can find out how it's all been said before" -- nothing!

"find out how it's all been said before" -- nothing!

"how it's all been said before" -- only 5.

Don't you find this amazing? (Only 15 hits, for that, by the way -- nearly all from repetitions of the same joke.)

UPDATE: Googling to check the originality of seemingly ordinary phrases can prove addicting. I just Googled the title to this post -- 26 hits -- and discovered it in a translation of Turgenev's "A Sportsman's Sketches":
'Well, suddenly it seemed to me that I was in love with Linchen, and for six whole months this impression remained. I talked to her, it’s true, very little—it was more that I looked at her; but I used to read various touching passages aloud to her, to press her hand on the sly, and to dream beside her in the evenings, gazing persistently at the moon, or else simply up aloft. Besides, she made such delicious coffee! One asks oneself—what more could one desire? Only one thing troubled me: at the very moments of ineffable bliss, as it’s called, I always had a sort of sinking in the pit of the stomach, and a cold shudder ran down my back. At last I could not stand such happiness, and ran away. Two whole years after that I was abroad: I went to Italy, stood before the Transfiguration in Rome, and before the Venus in Florence, and suddenly fell into exaggerated raptures, as though an attack of delirium had come upon me; in the evenings I wrote verses, began a diary; in fact, there too I behaved just like everyone else. And just mark how easy it is to be original! I take no interest, for instance, in painting and sculpture.... But simply saying so aloud... no, it was impossible! I must needs take a cicerone, and run to gaze at the frescoes.’...
What a moment of ineffable bliss! Now, if you'll excuse me, I must needs take a cicerone.


Mark Kaplan said...

Is a cicerone some kind of biscuit from a suburb of Chicago?

Ann Althouse said...

I thought it might have something to do with Madonna.

tommy said...

You probably know this and I'm just missing the by play but they are sight seeing guides.

Ann Althouse said...

I looked it up before I posted or I wouldn't have known.

PatCA said...

I also wonder about the origins of phrases. Who coined the wonderful "compassionate head tilt" phrase? It says it all about political hypocrisy.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

A Sportsman's Sketches! An origin to be proud of. A beautiful book, very influential on early Hemingway.

Thanks for the link, Ann.

Slac said...

For some reason this search didn't turn up any sites. I'm kind of disappointed.