Monday, March 14, 2011


The dictionary definition of plagiarism is as follows:
the unauthorised use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own.*

Children in first school learn that copying another's work is not a good thing (despite the fact that copying is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery.) In a class test any child who isn't clearly shielding their work from the eyes of others is either very confident in the illegibilty of their handwriting or doesn't care two hoots whether their work is copied or not.

With the increasing use of computers and laptops for student work and the ease of use of the "copy and paste" function, the temptation to lift wholesale from research found online must be dreadful. Instead of reading papers on a subject, thinking about the matter, mulling it over and finally coming up with your own interpretation, there's the easy option of click, click, click. No wonder there are so many tools available online to try and spot plagiarism.

Germany is a country that loves a title. Maybe it's because they lost their royal family in 1918 with the abdication of William II, but to get on in business a BSc. after your name can sometimes not be enough. I have a friend who is a very clever cookie who 'only' has a BSc., but in his office environment he's surrounded by PhD's, and although he's good enough to achieve such a qualification he can't afford the five years study time that it would take and yet worries about the ceiling that this qualificational lack may impose. There's always the alternative of course - cheat. Not that he would, because sooner or later cheats get found out.

Witness the downfall of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, ex defence minister here, forced out of office by the press after it was discovered that a large portion of his PhD thesis had been copied from other sources.

Karl-Theodor Maria Niklaus Johann Jacob Phillip Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg (to give him his full name and titles) was clearly not satisfied with being a baron who can trace his family tree back through dukes, princesses and counts. He must have thought that this was not enough to get ahead in politics. He must have thought he needed a few more letters of the alphabet adding to his already overflowing letterhead, a 'copy 'n paste' PhD was just the job.

Shame he got caught out really as he's very popular with the 'real' people (as opposed to the press) in fact he was being talked about as the successor for Chancellor Angela Merkel, and only eight days after his resignation at the political rallies his CSU party gave him their support saying, "You are one of us, you remain one of us, and we want you to return to German politics."

The opposition parties meanwhile had a field day at his expense, commenting that the CSU had shed its 'laptop and lederhosen' image combining modernism and traditional values for a 'copy and paste' mentality.

Klaus Ernst, of the radical Left Party, joked that if Guttenberg's offence was a 'citation error' then shoplifting could be redefined as a 'shopping error'.

At least we now have a new word - as well as a new defence minister, 'to guttenberg' is now being used instead of the phrase 'copy and paste'. Much simpler don't you think, one whole syllable less and two letters less, what an advance!

Word for the day; plagiarism = das Plagiieren

* I copied this from - literally.
eare has frequently been accused of plagiarism and has also been plagiarised. And with the internet information is readily available, just a few keys taps away and then what could be easier than highlighting the paragraph and copying it into the worksheet you already have open and waiting on the same laptop. No slavish copying out required just click, click, click. It must be so tempting to students.

In fact it is so tempting to students that most education facilities have guidelines concerning the issue, telling them not to do it and why they shouldn't do it, there are even lots of plagiarism checkers/spotters/detectors available - although I guess these are tools more useful to examiners than the students...

Plagiarism is quite a hot topic at the moment here in Germany. The defence minister was forced to resign from Merkel's government when he was accused of copying large parts of his doctoral thesis. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (a Bavarian Baron) has been part of the government for he last eight years and despite his resignation on March 1, he remains on of Germany's most popular politicians. Apparently the average German would happily let him stay on but the press have hounded him out.

There are a couple of things about this story that amuse me; the man's full name is

* just to let you know, I copied that definition (using the cut and paste function) from www.dictionary.referen

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