A COLUMN LOST IN TRANSLATION (Plagiarism 101)

I’m back! Sorry for the delay… I was buried alive in the aftermath of Christmas. That, and I obey deadlines from others much better than my own. So with a gentle shove from my daughter, Sarah, and another my workout buddy,  Chris, here is one toe in the water – an essay submitted to Alameda Patch back in June of 2011. It never posted, so I figure the content still belongs to me:

After dinner a couple of weeks ago, my family and I were watching something on TV that caught only half my attention, so I started fiddling with my new laptop – “Googling” myself, then “Googling” past column titles to see if anyone outside of Alameda was reading, maybe some complete stranger who wasn’t a relative or didn’t even know or love me. I found a couple of my columns posted on websites in Georgia and North Carolina and started to get pretty excited.

How cool is the Internet?! I started to wonder if my work would go viral, or if some New York publisher would call to beg me for rights to my yet-to-be-written Great American Novel. (Saying I have an active imagination is the definition of understatement.)

Then I found an altered version of a column about my friend, Mrs. Drake, except for in the new version she was “Mr. Drake.”

My shriek uprooted the rest of the family from their spots on the couch. Throughout the plagiarized version, it was as if someone had run the piece through a thesaurus in a different language, changing a word here and there to mean the same thing but with a completely different end product. I didn’t know whether to be flattered, angry, or both.

Did I need a lawyer? This was uncharted territory.

My original text: “A few weeks ago, I went to visit a 93-year-old friend. Well, I shouldn’t say old friend. I should say good friend.” Altered text: “Some weeks ago, I went to visit a Ninety Three-year-old pal. Well, I shouldn’t state old pal. I have to state fine pal.”

Nothing out of the ordinary so far, but it’s not how I would say it. They spelled out the numbers, changed “friend” to “pal,” “good” to “fine.” They changed “living room” to “family area.” No big deal, other than the plagiarism thing.

As I read further in, it got worse. My text: “With sweaty palms in a living room packed with parents and fellow students my children’s ages, I played the heck out of that piece. All I can say is thank God for blood pressure medication.” Altered text: “With sweaty palms in a family area packed with ancestors and fellow students my youngsters’ ages, I played the heck out from that chunk. All I could state is thank God for hypertension cure.”

“Packed with ancestors?” That’s kind of creepy. Sounds more like a séance than a piano recital… And “played the heck out from that chunk?!” Permission to roll over, Mozart.

They changed “terrible, horrible, no-good lousy friend” to “awful, awful, no-fine awful Pal.” (I may be an awful, awful, no-fine pal, but I do try my best not to be repetitive.) They changed “I reunited with parents” to “I re-joined with ancestors.” (Believe you me – Although I miss them, I am in no big hurry to join my ancestors.) “Harry Snider, whom I’ve known all his life and didn’t recognize” became “Harry Snider, whom I’ve recognized all his life and didn’t understand.” (Ok, that’s true. The older you get, the harder it is to understand the younger generation…) Referring to “Mr.” Drake’s pneumonia, they wrote, “I might hear the liquid deep in her breast.” (Liquid breasts… Hmmm…)  They changed “Lady Diana Spencer” to “Female Diana Spencer”. At least they left Diana’s gender intact, unlike poor “Mr.” Drake.

Owners of local businesses should share my outrage. Kelly Kearney’s “Pacific Fine Foods Catering” was changed to “Pacific Fine Meals Catering.” “Lauren’s Closet” became “Lauren’s Utility Area.” Pamm Drake’s “Dance/10 Performing Art Center” became “Dance/10 Carrying Out Art Center.” (Hey Pamm – Excellent idea! If you can’t make enough money in this economy as a dance teacher, you can always open food take-out service in one of your spare studios.)

Our family business name morphed from “Hidden Connections” to “Obscure Links.” It scared the heck out of me when someone called the office and said, “Have I reached Obscure Links?” Turns out it was a friend who saw my Facebook post about the column theft. Got me, John!

I’m flattered someone found my work worthy of plagiarism. But I wish they had changed my byline. I may not have a Pulitzer Prize on the mantle – yet - but I am NOT an awful, awful no good writer. I am Alice S. Lewis, who moved whole lot of the way from San Francisco to Berkeley (Go Bears), and then to Alameda in 1986. I outlay weekdays in a dusty storehouse, working as office executive for Obscure Links – my family’s Alameda AV setup business. Evenings and weekends I watch way too much adverse* television with my spouse, Si, while eagerly expecting telephone calls from our grown daughters, Sarah and Emily.”

*PS – I had a hunch Si might occasionally watch adverse television after I fall asleep at night. Don’t ask, don’t tell is my policy.

8 thoughts on “A COLUMN LOST IN TRANSLATION (Plagiarism 101)

  1. Oh, I do relate, unfortunately. But I will vouch for you, Alice. Don’t let anything stop you from writing, in your first language and someone else’s second or third. The world is full of dweebs, but there’s only one of you. ^_^

  2. I guess any of us who put our words out there are sitting ducks for this to happen. There is so much pleasure in writing. It’s sad to see the lengths people (and machines) will go to to avoid it. “Proceed, ursines.”

  3. Alice, I added a comment on Facebook, but this was hilarious. Maybe if you’re looking for an editor you should contact the plagiarist. Clearly, he/she/they/it has a way with words…

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