Wise words, and a pun
I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Pettigrew’s article on university
mottos as a source of more wisdom and altruism than the
regular pronouncements of university administrators (“Words
to learn by,” March issue). One obvious reason for the rarity
of such attention to the mottos is surely that they are generally
couched in languages understood by so few of every university’s
population of faculty, staff and students. It was a particular
pleasure to see him notice and applaud the sentiments expressed
in the motto of my own institution, the University of Toronto
Mississauga. He might be interested to know that “Tantum
nobis creditum” – a motto devised by my late colleague in the
classics program at UTM – carries within it not only the wisdom
he so eloquently expounds (“So much has been entrusted
to us”), but also a pun on the river that borders the east side
of the campus, the Credit River.
Dr. Rubincam is an associate professor emeritus in the department of historical studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
Can stock phrases by plagiarized?
i empathize with the authors of model teaching
philosophies who found a clear case where their
work was “cut-and-paste” plagiarized (In My
Opinion, February issue). But I think the authors
mislead, and need better evidence, when they
allege widespread plagiarism of their posted text.
Language includes countless stock phrases; so
when thousands (or millions) of people apply
such phrases to common themes (like teaching
philosophies or children’s learning), it would be
surprising to not find occasional matches in
short strings of words.
In the authors’ text at issue, common phrases
tend to predominate, such as “I bring a lot of
energy to my…” (“class” is filled in). A basketball
pro recently said: “I bring a lot of energy to my
team.” Did he plagiarize this also? Surely many
feel they bring lots of energy to their activities.
In the same way, do any authors really own the
expressions “can’t get excited about” or “by their
very nature”; or their observations that children
or other learners “are inquisitive”?
For comparison, consider this quote on the
contents page of the same February issue of
University Affairs: “PhDs are extremely hard working.
They are driven and focused.” I am sure the quote
was written in good faith, but if plagiarism is
measured by hits on Google, note how often the
words “hard working,” “driven” and “focused”
are combined if searched on Google. Yet realistically, how many new word orders for these concepts can be devised?
All this is highly relevant for readers who use
Turnitin, for instance, to screen students’ submis-
sions for copying. I use it, too, but routinely set
it to ignore apparent matches of less than 10
words. I do not think it is fair to assume that com-
mon phrases on common topics can be scram-
bled in unlimited ways.
William M. Goodman
Dr. Goodman is a professor in the faculty of business and IT at
the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
angelique eaglewoman has been appointed
dean of Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty
of Law, starting in May. Incorrect information
appeared in her appointment notice in the People
section of the March issue. We regret the error.
yukon college’s main campus is in Whitehorse,
not Yellowknife, as was indicated incorrectly in
the photo caption for the article, “Two colleges
embark down the road to becoming universities”
also in our March issue.
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