11 July 2012


As I enjoy my (potentially) final summer break, I can’t help but think about a concern that has loomed over my head since I started my education.

It started out simply—if you copy another kid, you get called out and people like you less. You become a social pariah until someone else screws up worse than you. Or pees his pants or something else equally mortifying.

What scared me then, and continues to scare me now, was being falsely accused of copying someone else. However, that fear has shifted to the academic realm. Plagiarism is scary.

When I was in high school, one English teacher was particularly strict about plagiarism (not that plagiarism is something to be taken lightly). She mentioned a website that dissects papers and highlights every bit of text that came from somewhere else, like a passage from a novel or an opinion from another writer. But, the website also contains papers from other students, it can track whether the author of the paper copied it from somewhere else. After highlighting all the foreign text, the teacher has to decide whether each source was properly cited.

 Considering that teachers have been drilling proper formatting for citations into my head since I can remember, I shouldn’t have worried so much about this website. But, since I am who I am, I found something about which to obsess.

Think about it. There are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, and everything I have ever reading is just these letters, arranged in various ways. But there are only so many possible permutations, and there is a chance that the conclusions I drew from reading something could be similar to the conclusions someone else drew after reading the same thing. We might even express our thoughts in a similar way, using similar words.

But, if that person’s paper is fed into the website before mine, I could be accused of plagiarism, even though I’ve never seen the other paper. In this hypothetical, I would be screwed, and would sound like an idiot trying to defend myself.

As I extend the scenario further, dipping into things like doppelgangers and parallel universes and all that, I find myself freaking out more and more. It’s like that cliché about how I’m special, just like everyone else or whatever. It’s really unsettling to think about and as I start to think about clichés and how anti-clichés are becoming clichés too my mind becomes a mess of panic until I find something to distract me.

I suppose this would be where I would put something revelatory about how I’ve gotten over it and am completely normal now, but that would be a giant lie. I’m still terrified about being a copycat, and will continued to be terrified for as long as I continue writing. It’s just something I have to live with, like my frustration with eating string cheese (THERE’S NO WAY TO EAT IT SO THAT IT’S PERFECTLY SYMMETRICAL).

Everything will be okay.


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