Speaking Of Attribution

I’m writing this on a Saturday and the end of a busy week. The active part did not end until noon today, when we wrapped up a three-hour orientation and rehearsal for this year’s Christmas Cantata.1

Now, I’m back home, catching my breath, watching golf, and checking up on friends from neighboring towns to other continents via social media. Okay! Not all of my old friends live on a continent. He lives in the South Pacific, almost 1,800 miles from the nearest continent.

More locally, a friend posted something which reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode. Another’s post shared that he’d happened to run into two other marines while having a cold one the other evening. Still, another shared a bit of wisdom, triggering this piece.

The post was simply the alleged quotation pictured above. Adding the photo and making a potential meme out of it came to mind while I was researching the matter. The observation highlighted in the phrase cited makes great sense; attributing it to someone such as Ralph Waldo Emerson doesn’t.

All right! I was judging based on my own biases about the writings of famous philosophers, authors, public figures, etc. I was also basing my judgment on years of experience separating fact from fiction and myth from reality.

According to two sources, this is a simplistic paraphrase of something Emerson wrote many years before this phrase was attributed to him. It is also an example of something I learned quite well during my years as an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas.

Plagiarism and misattribution are common within professional, academic, and theological circles. In the years I taught, I reviewed numerous papers, reports, and other work that were far from original. I have seen my work used without permission or attribution.

In one case, I wrote a blog about a wonderful sermon delivered by a pastor I know and admire. I blogged about the sermon, and a few weeks later, someone commented on my blog that their pastor had just delivered the same sermon. Of course, the pastor did not mention me or the pastor I wrote about.

My point here, other than venting a little, is this. If you want to be taken seriously, use some common sense. Don’t share everything that sounds neat and is attributed to someone famous without verifying the source. If you just like a phrase and want to share it because it makes sense, share it and don’t attribute it formally.

There is nothing wrong with sharing a post or thought from a comment with a simple acknowledgment you saw it somewhere and liked it. Attributing it to a famous poet, writer, politician, etc., isn’t essential to making your point unless your point is dependent on the quotation coming from the person to which it is attributed.

Take this quotation from my youth, for example. It humorously makes an excellent point, and the person making this point was highly respected by his peers and others. Still, attribution is not necessary as the statement stands on its own.

Starting in the late spring, he would begin to complain about summer and long for winter. Invariably someone would ask him why he was so looking forward to winter. His reply was always the same, ” When it is cold, you can pile on layers, but you can only take off so much when it’s hot!”

1Here’s a link to last year’s if you’ve never been to one of our Cantatas. December 5, 2021

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