Paraphrasing cartoon

We are now settling in to our new home in Wilmington, Delaware, and they sent us a free copy of the News Journal last week to encourage us to subscribe. One of the cartoons — Tina’s Groove — was surprisingly relevant.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=dictionary&iid=1643938″ src=”3/2/3/7/Miami_Schools_Teach_b363.jpg?adImageId=12975402&imageId=1643938″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /] A mother is saying to her daughter: “If you want to get a more comprehensive meaning of the word ‘plagiarism,’ look it up in this dictionary … and then look it up in this dictionary published two years later … almost word for word!”

This raises some interesting questions, which I can’t fully answer:

  1. Do lexicographers (dictionary writers/editors) ever get accused of plagiarism?
  2. How close can a definition be to one in another dictionary before it’s considered plagiarism?
  3. Are there examples of the phenomenon that Tina describes? — that is, identical (word for word) definitions in competing dictionaries?
  4. In other academic disciplines, can you be accused of plagiarizing the definition of a common term, or does this fall under the category of common knowledge? (A graduate student in Nursing at UNC once told me that there aren’t many ways to define osteoarthritis!)

I address some of these questions in my online videos on paraphrasing and plagiarism, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on these problems!

Author: Nigel Caplan

Nigel Caplan, Ph.D., is an associate professor of ESL and materials developer in Delaware, in the United States.

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