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Copycatting Copycatting
by Jan Sand
Issue 16
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The copycat is a linguistic feline beast that inhabits the somewhat disorderly terrain of the English language along with its highly diverse cohort of the mudcat, the wildcat, the hellcat, the pussycat, the polecat, the hepcat, muscat, and the final requiescat. Some of these bulk out into tangible reality and others, like the copycat lurk amongst peripheral characterizations of aspects, slinking from one object to another like any other fugitive wild creature.

There is a pejorative shadow around the term, as if it were somewhat sinful to indulge in copying, but each of us owes his or her actual existence to the faithful capability of our DNA to reproduce the triumphs of evolution. We produce a viable life form capable of withstanding the continuous onslaught of environment to reduce us to an uncoordinated mass of protein available to other more successful forms as dinner.

To be original, unique, totally novel may confer, on rare occasion, the capability to overcome the daily pitfalls that the universe of predators subjects each of us to in the continuous battle to stay alive and effective. But to venture out on the fragile shaky limb of being totally unconventional is bad practice for a primate fond of swinging hand to hand from sturdy trees. A slight spice of the original is much safer and so we live our creative lives utilizing the much more comfortable tool of the tweak. And, in a society that quickly responds to the faintest glimmer of the novel, the tweak can most times be not only sufficient but capable of eliciting generous applause.

Some tweaks take a healthy mouthful of the unknown to chew and digest. Einstein gobbled Newton, Maxwell, Gauss, Lobachevski, Rieman and a couple of others to formulate his version of the universe. Picasso plundered several of his contemporaries plus a good deal of African art to structure his new landscape. When Picasso was asked if he ever stole ideas he forthrightly declared that of course he did since he had the good sense to perceive what was worthwhile.

But we all still live in a basically conservative society. Underlying our appetite for new and unusual things is the general rule, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It has just been revealed that the previous pope had cautioned the theoretical physicist Hawking not to inquire too deeply into the origin of the universe as this was exclusively God’s business and mankind who had tasted of the apple from the tree of knowledge had already had its nose bonked for sticking it where it didn’t belong. Hawking expressed relief that the Galileo solution was not still in force. And daily we are reminded that the bulk of humanity is still averse to accept that, in spite of the fact that well over 90% of our DNA is a copy of the same DNA possessed by chimpanzees, they are somehow closely related to our ancestry.

Outside of American university students who have been seen to swipe huge portions of their submitted papers from public sources without giving credit where it is due, copying proceeds in our daily routines as a basic necessity of living with no negative implications. But perhaps we might apprise it as not a major violation of social ethics. Instead of calling it copycat, we could diminish its negative effect by calling it copymouse or perhaps copybedbug.


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