Ferraro on Language: Who Said That?

Be the Best

Ferraro 12_postBy Joe Ferraro

I’ve never heard a better answer to “what do you do?” than Seth Godin’s “I notice things.”

I have a long way to go before I can assert that as my job description, but even someone as impactful as Seth had to start somewhere. I doubt it was amongst the type of company I share today. Thanks Jack.

In the spirit of Seth though, here’s something I have noticed lately.

We are living through an epidemic. A quotation attribution epidemic. These three words don’t roll off the tongue, but what I mean is that at this point, people have no idea where any quote originated.

This morning on Twitter, I saw this gem in describing a bad loss: “Sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield.”

If this is your first time hearing this, you are laughing like I was the first time I heard it. It’s a charming line that certainly sounds like something Florida State Baseball Coach Mike Martin would say. And that’s a good thing, since the writer attributed the quote to Martin. The Elias Sports Bureau did not have data on its origin, but I feel confident that Mike Martin did not first arrange this collection of words. I first heard it a decade ago, for instance. Was it the writer’s attempt to steal the original author’s words? No way. Was it just lazy reporting? Not in this case. Was Martin the person that the Tweeter heard it from? Absolutely.

So what do we do?

The journalist in me knows that we should seek out the original source, but Twitter just isn’t set up for that type of attribution hunt.

What about when incorrect attribution is more aggressive?

jj-watt-for-ferraro-columnJ.J. Watt could say almost anything at this point and have it go viral, but this quotation spread furiously. I see why. It’s an amazing idea worded perfectly.

Only it’s not J.J.’s idea.

Months before I saw it lighting up his Twitter feed to the tune of tens of thousands of retweets (I weighed in on ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth giving J.J. improper credit ), I heard author Rory Vaden say it on the Entreleadership podcast. Here is Vaden saying it on video in 2013. Does Watt listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcast? I wouldn’t put it past him with his drive to get better, but that’s doubtful.

When Watt tweeted, was he maliciously stealing Vaden’s work? He doesn’t need the money nor the publicity, but a writer trying to share his message does.

Vaden is not whining about it, but still it does not feel right. What’s the solution?

I would like to see a higher standard of reporting. We need to be more mindful of giving credit where credit is due. Accidental plagiarism, after all, is still plagiarism.

This leaves the audience in an odd state. We have to take on some of the responsibility and demand more, but in an instant-gratification society, this is not always realistic. At the very least we can adopt the practice that any time we see a quotation, we should only assume that the name mentioned in attribution is the last person from whom the writer heard it. If we adopt this practice, we can follow the trail towards the origin if we so choose.

Ideas are important. In a sense they are all we have. The world is a better place when the best idea wins. The first step in that direction is knowing whose idea it was in the first place.

PS-I was reading this to my son, who is going to be a better writer than his daddy if he wants to be.

Joe Ferraro is a high school teacher in New York state. He is a writer, speaker, and certified Foodie. He is also the varsity head coach at Bronxville High School. Joe co-hosts KWB Radio with Kevin Wilson. The best way to follow and contact Joe is via Twitter at @FerraroOnAir.

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