Wednesday, February 7, 2007
I plagiarize the old-fashioned way!
I just found out that one of the wittiest things I’ve ever said I actually stole from Robert Benchley. I make no claims that it’s the wittiest thing anyone has ever said, or even the wittiest thing that Benchley ever said, just that it’s probably the wittiest thing I’ve ever said.
A few of us were sitting around one evening, talking politics and semiotics and what-not, over a few bottles of something, and someone made a comment about the two kinds of people there are in the world. I don’t remember now who those two kinds of people were, perhaps “good” and “bad”, or “smart” and “dumb”, but most likely, knowing these half-drunken conversations as I do, it was something like “those who know what it’s like to work for a living” and “those who have just knocked over the water pitcher.”
Seeing how far the discussion had sunk, I slowly and deliberately made the pronouncement: “The way I see it, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don’t.” My comment killed. Or at least that’s how I remember it.
Just yesterday, I found out that I had stolen my pronouncement from Benchley without even so much as a footnote! I don’t ever remember reading it before. At the time, I thought I had created it out of whole cloth. Which leads me to wonder, how many other of my pronouncements, witty or otherwise, have I pilfered?
For instance, what if it turns out that last Christmas dinner, when I blurted out “God bless us, every one!” at the end of the blessing (which induced gales of familial laughter, even though I was trying to be profound), I was repeating something I might have heard or read somewhere else? What if, when my membership in Skull and Bones was rejected and I sent them a note simply, but haughtily, stating “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member, anyway!”, that I was actually committing some sort of plagiarism, or at the very least, baring my uncreative soul?
If this were true, it would mean that the wittiest thing I’ve ever come up with would be: “nanny-nanny goo-goo, I got you-you.” And God help me if the provenance of that pithy saying is called into question!