Bailiff: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Scott: I do. (Assistant District Attorney John Wells strides forward and begins to question Kaufman.)
Wells: Is it true that on the tenth of May you wrote a post on your blog called "What's the Word I'm Looking For? The Opposite of 'Disgruntled'"?
Scott: I did.
Wells: And did said post contain the sentence "Today, for some apparent reason, I had my first choate idea in weeks"?
Scott: It did.
Wells: Now refer to Government's Exhibit 643. Read the highlighted section.
Scott: "But then, all at once, for some apparent reason, she looked in my direction and smiled in a way that I could make heads and tails of."
Wells: Notice any similarity?
Scott: The phrase "some apparent reason" appears in both.
Wells: It certainly does. Now could you read the next highlighted part?
Scott: "The conversation become more and more choate, and we spoke at length to much avail." I know what you're thinking, but I'm no plagiarist!
Wells: Will the court please instruct Mr. Kaufman to only answer the questions asked?
Judge: Consider yourself warned.
Wells: Thank you. Now please read the rest of the highlighted words.
Scott: Gruntled, nomer, shevelled, kempt, godly.
Wells: If I were to tell you all those words appeared in your blog post of 10 May, would I be correct?
Scott: They're all there, but . . .
Wells: You'll answer the questions I ask with a simple "Yes" or "No."
Wells: The State enters Exhibit 644 into evidence. (hands an oddly shaped box to Scott) Mr. Kaufman, will you please tell the jury what you have in your hands?
Scott: A copy of The Complete New Yorker.
Wells: What would happen if I handed you a laptop and asked you to do a search for an article in the 25 July 1994 issue written be a man named Jack Winter?
Scott: I stare at its outrageously complicated search interface for a couple of minutes. Then I'd type in his name and be taken to a screen which listed the articles he'd written. I'd try to access them, but would fail miserably.
Wells: And why would you do that?
Scott: Because it's designed so counterintuitive that you need a doctorate in Computer Science to navigate it.
Wells: You want this court to believe that someone as technological proficient as you is unable to operate The Complete New Yorker's search function?
Scott: It's true.
Wells: (looking flustered) So what you expect this court to believe is that despite you teaching articles from The New Yorker on a regular basis, you had no idea of the existence of Jack Winter's "How I Met My Wife"?
Scott: Yes sir.
Wells: And that the numerous identical "words" in the two text appear through sheer coincidence?
Scott: Not by coincidence. We—Mr. Winter and I—were both aiming for the same effect. There aren't that many words in the English language with the strange usage patterns we both exploited for humorous effect . . .
Wells: "Yes" or "No" will suffice.
Scott: Yes then, I suppose.
Wells: If a student of yours turned in an article with as many "coincidences" as are found in your post, what would your first reaction be?
Scott: It depends. If I'd seen them through four or five drafts and watched as they appeared via revision, I'd think it a coincidence.
Wells: And what would Turnitin.com think it?
Scott: Plagiarism. But it can't account for process . . .
Wells: Thank you, Mr. Kaufman. That's all. I have no more questions for this witness . . .
Addendum: So that turned out far more tedious than funny. Were I to write it more directly, I'd say "I didn't actually plagiarize the Winters piece, but given the standards I apply to my students, there's no way around the fact that I'm a plagiarist." So when a friend of mine—who, I should add, I didn't even know read this blog—emailed me a link to the Winters article, my first thought was less thought and more terrible-sinking-feeling. I consoled myself with the knowledge that I didn't actually read The New Yorker until June of '95.
How can I date it so precisely? Because that's when I started working in the used bookstore which introduced me to that and many other magazines besides . . . including The Baffler. I must say that the idea that I work with people who were on The Baffler's editorial board makes the young intellectual outsider in me glow in much the same way he does when the new n+1 arrives. (As it did yesterday.) Point being I think this an interesting test case, since I'm 100% certain I didn't plagiarize the Winters piece but know how high the evidence is stacked against me.