Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Phrasing similarities,
phrasing similarities

Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore with a (reported) $500,000 contract with Little, Brown, offers an explanation of the similarities between passages in her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life and passages in Megan McCafferty's novels Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings:

While the central stories of my book and hers are completely different, I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious. My publisher and I plan to revise my novel for future printings to eliminate any inappropriate similarities.
The Boston Globe and the Harvard Crimson have collected passages for comparison. The Crimson offers several that are said to be "among the clearest," which would seem to imply that there are more. Sample:
From page 68 of McCafferty’s second novel: "'Omigod!' shrieked Sara, taking a pink tube top emblazoned with a glittery Playboy bunny out of her shopping bag."

From page 51 of Viswanathan’s novel: "...I was sick of listening to her hum along to Alicia Keys, and worn out from resisting her efforts to buy me a pink tube top emblazoned with a glittery Playboy bunny."
That looks like plagiarism, and of the saddest, strangest sort.

In my experience, students who plagiarize usually fall at one or the other end of the academic spectrum. And those at the upper end are never willing to acknowledge what they've done. Their explanations range from unintentional duplication ("glancing" at SparkNotes and somehow unwittingly reproducing phrases and sentences with slight variation) to "I wouldn't do such a thing," even when the evidence is right before them. Viswanathan's situation is a more complicated one, as she worked with a book packager, 17th Street Productions, to make her writing marketable. One begins to wonder just who was doing the cutting and pasting here.

      » "Student's Novel Faces Plagiarism Controversy"
      Article from the Harvard Crimson

      » "Young Author Admits Borrowing Passages"
      AP article, with misleading headline

      » "She may have, but she also had help"
      On the "packaging" of the book, from Mediabistro

      » "'Opal Mehta' vs. 'Sloppy Firsts'"
      Passages for comparison, from the Boston Globe

      » "Similar Passages ..."
      Passages for comparison, from the Harvard Crimson

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of Sloppy Firsts. My last Philosophy paper had the exact phrase "pink tube top emblazoned with a glittery Playboy bunny" in it.

Just kidding!


Michael Leddy said...

As they say on the Internets, LOL!

Love, Dad