Is this considered Plagiarism?

I plan on writing a book and in one of the chapters I will explain how to benefit from problems and defeat. However, there have already been several quotes similar to what I want to say written by several other authors. Here are some examples:

Every failure carries with it the Seed of an equivalent or greater Benefit. - Napoleon Hill

Every great man, every successful man, no matter what the field of endeavor, has known the magic that lies in these words: every adversity has the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit. - W. Clement Stone

Every adversity has within it the seeds of an equivalent benefit. - Unknown

Every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the Seed of an equivalent or a greater Benefit. - From “The Secret”

I know plagiarism means to repeat a string of words from another author and claim it as one’s own thoughts but could I get away with repeating “seed of an equivalent or greater benefit” without being accused of plagiarism?

What if I repeat the short phrase “as surely as water gravitates to the ocean” which I read in a book once? Would that be considered plagiarism? In my viewpoint, these are such short and trivial phrases that it doesn’t seem like a big deal to just use them. It seems to me that it would be excessive to give the source for every single short phrase that I read somewhere else. Am I wrong?

If you want to be on the safe side, you could say “As Napoleon Hill once said, every failure carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”. Or, if you’re uncertain that Mr. Hill is the original source, there’s the old standby, “As a great man once said…”.

What about an off-hand remark such as “as surely as water gravitates to the ocean.” That simile could be used for dozens of things that it wasn’t associated with when I first read it. Does that require the portrayal of a source? How could I smoothly handle this type of issue?

No, plagiarism basically means passing off someone else’s ideas as your own.

Whether you use their exact words without credit, or change a few of the words, or even re-write the entire thought in other words, you are still taking credit for someone else’s thinking.

This is one of the hardest things to teach students. They always want to know how many of the original words do I have to change to not credit the original author. They get upset when told that if the original idea came from him, you have to credit him, even if none of the words are his, even if he wrote in a different language a hundred years ago, you still have to cite him if you use his ideas.

You’re basically doing the same thing, wanting to know “…can I get away with…”. That thought is a key to know that you should be putting a cite here.

Think of this a different way: this will really help my argument – I can cite this recognized authority who agrees with me. That should lend weight to your argument, which would be lost if you just inserted that as your own thought. Citations make your writing stronger!

Why not start the chapter with all the quotes?

I’m not surprised that it’s one of the hardest things to teach students. If someone wants to talk about war strategies, he or she would always need to quote Sun Tzu; leadership, John Maxwell; positive thinking, Norman Vincent Peale. Even if someone typed multiple one page articles about the same field of knowledge, that person would always need to cite the same people over and over again.

I saw a Barack Obama speech earlier today where he said “Recognize yourself in others.” Most likely someone said or wrote that quote first with different wording. Couldn’t he be accused of plagiarism for that?

Am I barred from writing that phrase because Barack Obama said it even though it was likely said before him??

This puts people in a difficult position, as all thought is derivative and original thought is a chimera. Should all essays come with a bibliography linking every turn of phrase and every idea back to the people the student likely stole them from? How much opportunity does there need to be to steal something before it can be assumed it was stolen?

That’s nonesense. I have had at least one thought in my life that was truly original and dozens of others that consisted in pushing someone else’s further than he realized. In at least one case unimaginably (to him) further.

Somewhere in Steven Brust’s “Vlad” series, he has the following aphorisms as chapter themes, which expresses the OP’s thoughts:

  • Success breeds complacency
  • Compacency breeds failure
  • Failure breeds success

Bill James has said much the same about why baseball teams don’t usually win two chapionships on a row.

Let’s put it this way: if there’s a significant chance someone might erroneously think something was your original contribution, when in fact you know it to not be, you should take reasonable steps to make that clear.

Hmm. It seems that you have several authors who’ve used a very similar phrase. Did they cite their source or in some way indicate it wasn’t an original phrase? Where did that quote originate? Could it be that the quote is so widely spread that the original source is unknown and you really have no one to credit. If I were to write in a book “It seems that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”, would I be guilty of plagiarism? Can a phrase be in the public domain?

Well, you certainly thought it was original. I’m sure a complete analysis of your reading material &c. in that timeframe would demonstrate otherwise.

Aside from ignoring the New York Yankees, this is not a new idea. It is, in fact, quite obvious to anyone who observes middling-quality baseball teams.

No, because there is not a significant chance that people might reasonably think that phrase was your original contribution.

Yes, there’s a judgement call involved here. Sorry.

Presumably if the op were to state something like “it has been said that…” and then expanded on the idea in the rest of the chapter he’d be ok? I’m assuming the entire chapter isn’t made up of various truisms picked up from books he’s read.

One important thing to remember is that plagarism is not the same as copyright infringement. Just reading the wikis on the two concepts(Copyright Infringement Plagarism) will give you a pretty clear idea.

Being caught in an act of plagarism would damage (or destroy) your academic credentials. You may not have infringed on any copyrights. I imagine I could rewrite a book like Art of War in my own words and publish it. I cribbed every idea and would probably be taken to task for not mentioning Sun Tzu, but I would break no US law. The numerous works that crib Shakespeare plots are another example.

Also, even just regurgitating a bunch of truisms into a book might not get you any prestige, but probably wouldn’t get you into trouble. Facts and trivia can’t be copyrighted, just the presentation of such information. I doubt quote books would exist at all if the compiler had to clear every quote and pay a dividend to each original author. (This doesn’t mean you can’t get sued by some original author, just that you probably won’t be arrested.)

Since this book sounds like a self-help type rather than an academic history book, I don’t think you really have to worry about accusations of plagarism too much. You do have to worry about copyright infringements, and a single quote or interesting turn of phrase would likely be covered under fair use:

That seems like a much stronger definition of plagiarism than most people use. From Wikipedia:

Note that the imitation of language is a necessary condition. It’s language and thoughts.

Actually, the way that you stated your definition puts you in something of a bind. Either it is your own creation or it is not your own creation. If it is your own creation, it is a personal idiosyncratic definition, and you shouldn’t imply otherwise. But if it is not your own creation, then you stand guilty of plagiarism by your own definition, since you didn’t give an attribution ;).

I have this crazy idea that the world might be round…