When we were sent to the encyclopedias in grade school, we were told that verbatim copying was verboten. Our reports had to contain our own ideas (of which we had none) and “our own words.” Nobody thought of quoting from a source because that would only announce the crime. We were years away from being able to synthesize a thought in our own words and use quotations merely as accents.

Teachers spoke of “plagiarizing” — an obscure term (to a 9-year-old), reeking of pestilence and intended to intimidate. The gist of the offense as we understood it was the failure to use our own words. As a consequence, those of us afraid of getting caught labored in frustration to rewrite perfectly good sentences crafted by writers far better with words than we on subjects about which we knew essentially nothing.

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