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February 24, 2021

How to Avoid Plagiarism: Get Your Own Damn Words

Get your own damn words.*

That’s what was probably going through First Lady Michelle Obama’s head as she listened to Melania Trump’s speech Monday evening during the Republican National Convention.

Melania, the wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, recycled roughly a paragraph from Michelle’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech, delivered when HER husband was the presumptive nominee for the Democratic party.

In the interest of accuracy, “recycled” isn’t the right word. “Plagiarized” is more accurate.

In the interest of better accuracy, it’s probably better to say Melania’s speechwriter plagiarized Michelle’s speechwriter because no one in big politics writes their own material. (To be fair, both speechwriters probably plagiarized the lines from every other political and graduation speech ever delivered.)

And speaking of plagiarism from other political speeches:

Plagiarism essentially involves passing off someone else’s work as your own. It’s theft and lying all rolled up into one sticky and unethical package.

It’s also very easy to avoid if you follow one basic principle:

Get your own damn words.

The principle (and phrase) comes from Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., who discovered a no-talent hack from a Georgia newspaper was stealing his columns. Pitts wrote a brilliant column in response to the plagiarism that included these closing lines:

“The dictionary is a big book. Get your own damn words. Leave mine alone. “

It takes a good bit of ethical backbone, but it’s relatively easy to get your own damn words.

  1. Don’t copy and paste from another source. Develop your own thoughts.
  2. Don’t slap your name on it if you didn’t write it.
  3. Don’t tell others you wrote it if you didn’t write it.
  4. Research what your competition has said. Don’t repeat it.
  5. If you’re not sure the content is your own damn words, run them through Google or a plagiarism detector like or to find out. (That’s how college professors bust academic dishonesty.)
  6. If you’re busted for not using your own damn words, see numbers 1 through 5.

    *Original quote from Leonard Pitts, Jr. My apologies for the language; you’re a grown-up and you can handle it.

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