or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Steal

A few days ago I off-handedly mentioned what looks like an issue of plagiarism in the handmade-jewellery world, although as April Winchell of Regretsy notes, it isn't that cut-and-dried, because nobody seems to know who came up with the idea first, as is fairly often the case with simple, obvious-in-retrospect ideas. (One commenter suggests that the basic concept is at least as old the mid-eighties.)

And then as usual the word "plagiarism" (or my preferred version, "plagiary"), haunted me, because I realized that I did not know where it came from. It suggests the French "plage", "beach", which is stupid, because the words are so obviously unrelated to one another. So where did it come from?

From Latin, it will not surprise you to learn. To the Romans, a plagiarius was someone who took something not belonging to him--specifically a kidnapper, but also a seducer, and, later, a thief of someone's words, the most usual meaning nowadays (although it can also, as in the case of the jewellery, refer to a thief of intellectual property).

"Plagiarius" is from "plaga", "net", from Indo-European "plag-", "flat, spread-out", which is also the source and the approximate meaning of, yes, French "plage", "beach". To my complete astonishment.

"Plagiary" is of course unrelated to "plague", which is evidently from "plangere", "to strike; to lament (signified by the beating of the breast)", the source of English "plangent", referring to a sound with a deep, possibly loud, and generally mournful quality. "Plangere" late in the history of Latin became "plaga", unrelated to the "net" sense, meaning a wound inflicted by a strike and then to a pestilence such as the plague.


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