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Plagiarism is the close imitation of another author's language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions, and the representation of them as one's own original work. The notion remains problematic with nebulous boundaries, but the modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement, while in the previous centuries authors and artists were encouraged to copy the masters as closely as possible and avoid unnecessary invention. The 18th century new morals have been institutionalized and enforced prominently in the sectors of academia and journalism, where plagiarism is now considered academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics, subject to sanctions like expulsion and other severe career damage.


  • They lard their lean books with the fat of others' works.
    • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Democritus to the Reader.
  • We can say nothing but what hath been said,
    * * Our poets steal from Homer * * *
    Our storydressers do as much; he that comes last is commonly best.
    • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Democritus to the Reader.
  • I wrote the verse for the spiritual number "Clap Yo' Hands" and a lyric called "That Certain Something You've Got," but Ira changed the lyrics and called it "Oh, Kay, You're O.K. with Me." It was the title song of the show and the least distinguished. Ira made me a present of the credit for it. It was the opposite of plagiarism; we call it donorism.
    • Howard Dietz, on his early, largely uncredited collaboration with George Gershwin (serving as a temporary fill-in for the hospitalized Ira), during the writing of Oh, Kay!; in Dancing in the Dark (1974), p. 74
  • Report says that you, Fidentinus, recite my compositions in public as if they were your own. If you allow them to be called mine, I will send you my verses gratis; if you wish them to be called yours, pray buy them, that they may be mine no longer.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book I, Epigram 29.
  • Next o'er his books his eyes began to roll,
    In pleasing memory of all he stole;
    How here he sipp'd, how there he plunder'd snug,
    And suck'd all o'er like an industrious bug.
  • Steal!—to be sure they may; and egad, serve your best thoughts as gypsies do stolen children, disfigure them to make 'em pass for their own.
  • Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism" farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.
    • Mark Twain, letter to Helen Keller, after she had been accused of plagiarism for one of her early stories (17 March 1903), published in Mark Twain's Letters, Vol. 1 (1917) edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, p. 731.
  • Call them if you please bookmakers, not authors; range them rather among second-hand dealers than plagiarists.
    • Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique portatif ("A Philosophical Dictionary") (1764), Plagiarism.
  • Who borrow much, then fairly make it known,
    And damn it with improvements of their own.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 598-600.
  • Who, to patch up his fame—or fill his purse—
    Still pilfers wretched plans, and makes them worse;
    Like gypsies, lest the stolen brat be known,
    Defacing first, then claiming for his own.
  • Because they commonly make use of treasure found in books, as of other treasure belonging to the dead and hidden underground; for they dispose of both with great secrecy, defacing the shape and image of the one as much as of the other.
  • The Plagiarism of orators is the art, or an ingenious and easy mode, which some adroitly employ to change, or disguise, all sorts of speeches of their own composition, or that of other authors, for their pleasure, or their utility; in such a manner that it becomes impossible even for the author himself to recognise his own work, his own genius, and his own style, so skilfully shall the whole be disguised.
    • Isaac D'Israeli, Curiosities of Literature, Professors of Plagiarism and Obscurity.
  • Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerent.
    • Perish those who said our good things before we did.
    • Ælius Donatus, according to St. Jerome, Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Chapter I. Referring to the words of Terence.
  • When Shakespeare is charged with debts to his authors, Landor replies, "Yet he was more original than his originals. He breathed upon dead bodies and brought them into life."
  • It has come to be practically a sort of rule in literature, that a man, having once shown himself capable of original writing, is entitled thenceforth to steal from the writings of others at discretion.
  • He that readeth good writers and pickes out their flowres for his own nose, is lyke a foole.
  • When 'Omer smote 'is bloomin' lyre,
    He'd 'eard men sing by land an' sea;
    An' what he thought 'e might require,
    'E went an' took—the same as me.
  • My books need no one to accuse or judge you: the page which is yours stands up against you and says, "You are a thief."
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book I, Epigram 53.
  • Why, simpleton, do you mix your verses with mine? What have you to do, foolish man, with writings that convict you of theft? Why do you attempt to associate foxes with lions, and make owls pass for eagles? Though you had one of Ladas's legs, you would not be able, blockhead, to run with the other leg of wood.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book X, Epigram 100.
  • For such kind of borrowing as this, if it be not bettered by the borrower, among good authors is accounted plagiary.
  • Je reprends mon bien où je le trouve.
    • I recover my property wherever I find it.
    • Molière. Cyrano de Bergerac incorporated a scene confidentially communicated to him by Molière, in his Pédant Joué, II. 4. Molière taking possession, used it in his Les Fourberies de Scapin. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims (1876), attributes the mot to Marmontel.
  • Les abeilles pillotent decà delà les fleurs; mais elles en font aprez le miel, qui est tout leur; ce n'est plus thym, ny marjolaine: ainsi les pièces empruntées d'aultruy, il les transformera et confondra pour en faire un ouvrage tout sien.
    • The bees pillage the flowers here and there but they make honey of them which is all their own; it is no longer thyme or marjolaine: so the pieces borrowed from others he will transform and mix up into a work all his own.
    • Michel de Montaigne, Essays, Book I, Chapter XXV.
  • Amongst so many borrowed things, am glad if I can steal one, disguising and altering it for some new service.
  • He liked those literary cooks
    Who skim the cream of others' books;
    And ruin half an author's graces
    By plucking bon-mots from their places.
  • Take the whole range of imaginative literature, and we are all wholesale borrowers. In every matter that relates to invention, to use, or beauty or form, we are borrowers.
  • Leurs écrits sont des vois qu'ils nous ont faits d'avance.
    • Their writings are thoughts stolen from us by anticipation.
    • Alexis Piron, La Métromanie, III. 6.
  • The seed ye sow, another reaps;
    The wealth ye find, another keeps:
    The robes ye weave, another wears:
    The arms ye forge another bears.
  • Libertas et natale solum.
    • Fine words! I wonder where you stole 'em.
    • Jonathan Swift, upon Chief Justice Whitshed's Motto for his coach (1724).
  • Nullum est jam dictum quod non dictum sit primus.
    • Nothing is said nowadays that has not been said before.
    • Terence, Ennuchus. Prologue. XLI. As quoted by Donatus. See Warton, Essay on Pope. Note I, p. 88. Ed. 1806.
  • Hos ego versiculos feci, tulit alter honores
    Sic vos non vobis nidificatis aves:
    Sic vos non vobis vellera fertis oves:
    Sic vos non vobis mellificatis apes:
    Sic vos non vobis fertis aratra boves.
    • I wrote these lines; another wears the bays:
      Thus you for others build your nests, O birds:
      Thus you for others bear your fleece, O sheep:
      Thus you for others honey make, O bees:
      Thus you for others drag the plough, O kine.
    • Virgil, Claudius Donatus. Delphin ed. of Life of Vergil (1830), p. 17.
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