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Famous to fifteen people

Heather Green has risen to defend my honor because a story on podcasting in the NY Times yesterday attributes the quote “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen people” as a “podcasting maxim” rather than to me. Thank you, Heather.

But, my honor doesn’t need or deserve defending in this case. Here’s the comment I left in response to Heather’s post, which was title “Quote foul!”:

I’d jump in and grab the glory except for two points:

First, although I came up with the line independently, if you google it you’ll find a bunch of other people who came up with it independently before I did. Life’s like that.

Second, even if I knew that I was the first person ever to say those words, so what? Sure, it’s good to attribute quotations when possible, but it’s even better to let ideas be assimilated into the cultural body, and that doesn’t happen if people have to keep saying “As so-and-so said.” I’m proud to have something that I (and others) wrote enter the culture as a “maxim.” Cool!

Just to be clear: Had I known that someone else had said that line, I would have attributed it to him/her in the book. That would have been appropriate in that context. It’s different if a reporter thinks that it’s a phrase that’s been floating around for a while and attributes to a general purpose person.

So, thank you for the defense, and I’m sorry to have inadvertently led you to defend my honor when there is no honor to defend. At least in this case.

In short, if I were the referee, I’d say: “No foul. Fair play!”

One of the commenters tracks the phrase to a 1997 usenet post. There are a couple of other references as well.

Which just proves one of my other maxims: Nothing has ever been said just once. (By the way, there are no google hits on that phrase.)

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