On Pasta and Copypasta


I guarantee this spaghetti dinner was not made by photographing someone else’s spaghetti dinner and then cranking out a replica on a 3-D printer.

Last night my lovely wife made spaghetti for dinner because it’s a thing we like. Buried inside the sauce are meatballs she made using a recipe online. It’s slowly becoming one of my favorite home-cooked meals. I’m sure Chopped judges would probably have copious disappointed notes about what they would do differently. They wouldn’t mix two different kinds of pasta just to use up a nearly empty box in the pantry. They’d make fresh sauce from scratch rather than rely on a national jarred brand. Their meatballs might be more consistently colored and stuffed with fifteen extra ingredients. They’d serve it on a set of plates that cost more than we spend on one week’s groceries, with a side of fresh bread bought that same morning from a renowned Italian baker. And so on.

Their level of pasta craft doesn’t invalidate our meal. But at the same time, Anne didn’t claim to create her own sauce recipe, or make her own pasta from the flour up. She’s not gunning for the position of Prego family matriarch. It’s just supper at home. I reiterate: to this biased reviewer, A-plus.

I was reminded of our evening meal plans earlier in the day when a friend of mine retweeted the following clever joke:

One of the twelve million “It’s funny because it’s true!” wisecracks that pop up on Twitter during any given day. Some go no further than a single circle of friends. Some might be shared with friends-of-friends. Some go “viral”, a word I’ve grown to detest. But you get the picture.

Then I was reminded of something else: I’d seen this joke before from another user. Possibly from more than one.

Curious and a mite annoyed, I dug into the vast Twitter catalog and searched for tweets by other users using roughly the same setup and punchline. A grand army of “great minds think alike!” predecessors lined up one by one, in reverse chronological order:







…if you didn’t give up and you’re still scrolling and reading: hello! Welcome to the finish line. Have an MCC Participant ribbon in your favorite color.

The results Twitter gave me, including results that flunked my criteria and were omitted from this list, terminated at 4/7/2012. I skipped any variations that weren’t numbered, or whose final step was anything but a one-word “Wrong”. No links after the final word, no expletive tacked on, no uses of “You’re wrong”, and definitely no “You are wrong”, which fouls up its comic timing.

Regardless: presto. I’d found a serving of copypasta — previously written material borrowed from elsewhere by multiple users in assorted online venues. It’s a term usually reserved for message board use, but the parameters fit.

Sometimes it’s (re)written off the top of the user’s head; more often than not, it’s copied-‘n’-pasted out of laziness and used without attribution to the original writer. Sometimes it’s done just to amuse friends for a split-second and nothing more; sometimes it’s a wannabe dreaming of being super famous someday but realized to their distress that writing their own stuff is hard, so why not “steal from the best”, as the old rationalization goes. (Vonnegut, was that? Or did he steal it?) Funny thing about that: stealing from the best won’t usually make you the best.

Without delving into all those individual user timelines, it’s unfair and maybe a bit mean to judge here, but…I mean, really, people? Recycling it this many times? Was this dialogue from an episode of Friends? A defining quote from a beloved old Louis CK routine? Or maybe from Louie Anderson?

Normally I let other users do their thing while I do mine, and I’m used to Facebook users having no clue how copyrights or “fair use” work, but there was a part of me really, irrationally bugged by this, a part that thought it a little unfair to deprive the originating humorist, whether amateur or professional, of their fair credit. This could’ve been the bon mot that landed them in some future edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations or a gig fetching coffee at MAD Magazine. Now the world may never know. Whoever, they are, I hope they’re not starving right now because they gave away their material for free. For want of credit where it’s due, exposure was lost.

…and in case you’re curious: yes, for our dinner we did get it wrong. We used up all the sauce but still have a small bowl of mixed pasta left in the fridge. Maybe I can sell it to someone at work and tell them it’s our own homemade artisan blend.

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