I picked up George Orwell's novel, 1984 in the Summer of 1984, having decided to wait until that year to read it. The very second that I finished reading the last page, I laid the book down and said:
"Orwell is an optimist!"
At that moment, the irony was ever so palpable to me, and it wasn't long before I had this phrase emblazoned on a T-shirt, which I frequently wore, and etched into my car's license plate frame.
Today, if you do a search on the internet for this phrase you will find many, many instances of it, on websites that I don't ascribe to. It became a meme long before memes, and social media, even existed.
A meme, for those who don't yet know the word, is:
- a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way. Dictionary.com
I happened to be looking online for information on Mr. Orwell when I came across this meme. Simply put, I was shocked! There it was, my silly phrase, on page after page for all the world to see and share.
My next reaction was , "Wait a minute! I coined that!" But my name was not attached to it, anywhere. Of course not. I had left it in plain sight, anonymously. Alas, someone(s) took it and ran with it.
So, would it considered theft if I had chiseled my unsigned words into a piece of wood, left it behind on a park bench, and another person picked it up and started quoting it? I'm not convinced it is.
But, the writer in me does appreciate at least a little recognition for coining such a successful idiom. For about the past ten years I have stewed over the lack thereof. Apparently, I am in good company.
In 1844, Alexander Dumas published The Three Musketeers. In that initially serialized story, he wrote the sentence, "It was a dark and stormy night." ... a brilliant phrase which I thought he had coined.
But no. When I "googled" those words, I was surprised to find that Edward Bulwer-Lytton had coined them in his 1830 novel, titled Paul Clifford ... fourteen years before Dumas's story was published.
Dumas is thought to have heavily plagiarized the works of his contemporaries; authors I know little about and whose works I have not yet read. Every kid knows the novels of Dumas, but Lytton?
In my case, only those who I have shared my slogan with know that it originated with me. But for all of you who have happened upon it elsewhere, I am finally setting the record aright ... because I can.
Unlike Auguste Maquet, who sued Dumas for royalties from The Three Musketeers, citing his contribution to Dumas's work, I am of no, absolutely no, mind to do so. I only wish to lay reasonable claim to having coined it ... credit where credit is due: Romans 13:7.
"Orwell was an optimist!" Janice Thompson (1984)