The Latin word plaga means a snare or a hunting net, and is thought to derive from the Proto Indo-European root *plak, meaning “to weave.” From this came the Latin noun plagium, meaning the act of “kidnapping” and “the netting of game.” The perpetrator of the act was called a plagiarius, that is, a kidnapper (a person who steals a human regarded at the time as “belonging” to another, for example a child or somebody else’s slave).
By extension, plagiarius also came to mean a seducer or, after the Roman poet Martial complained of another poet “kidnapping his verses” in the 1st century AD, somebody who commits literary theft by attempting to pass off others’ artistic designs, ideas or writing as their own.
In the 17th and early 18th century the Latin for “kidnapper” and “kidnapping” were adopted into English as “plagiary” and “plagium,” respectively. Martial’s sense of the plagiarius as the committer of literary theft was also adopted into English: over time, the word “plagiary” evolved into “plagiarist,” the modern word for the perpetrator of literary theft, while the modern word for the act changed from “plagium” to “plagiarism.”
Photo: Chen Wen-chan, Taipei Times 照片：自由時報記者陳文嬋
(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)
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