Language Log is extremely skeptical that Maureen Dowd accidentally remembered a verbatim quote from Josh Marshall:
Let's try a little (thought) experiment in verbal short-term memory. First, find a friend. Then, find a reasonably complex sentence about 45 words long, expressing a cogent and interesting point about an important issue -- say this one from a story in today's New York Times: "But the billions in new proposed American aid, officials acknowledge, could free other money for Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure, at a time when Pakistani officials have expressed concern that their nuclear program is facing a budget crunch for the first time, worsened by the global economic downturn."
Now call your friend up on the phone, and have a discussion about the topic of the article. In the course of this conversation, slip in a verbatim performance of the selected sentence. Then ask your friend to write an essay on the topic of the discussion. (OK, this is a thought experiment, right?)How likely is it that the selected sentence will find its way, word for word, into your friend's essay?
Actually, there's a prior question, which is whether your friend will have stopped the conversation to ask why you're suddenly talking in such a writerly way.
If she did, she's wasted as a columnist; she ought to have her own mentalist act.
What's weird is that the truth is presumably more believable than what she said. It's not like Maureen Dowd has a history of plagiarism, or that it's very likely she thought a verbatim lift would go unnoticed. What probably happened is that her assistant found the quote for her, and the attribution got lost, or a friend emailed it to her and forgot to mention it was a direct lift. All writers get ideas and funny turns of phrase from their non-writer friends, though most of us notify the friends before we steal them. But the explanation she gave makes no sense, and makes people think she's hiding something.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.