Voltaire? William Ralph Inge? Herbert Paul? Paul Chatfield? Horace Smith? Katharine Fullerton Gerould? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I have been attempting to trace a provocative and humorous remark about originality that has been attributed to a professor at the University of Cambridge named William Ralph Inge:
Originality is undetected plagiarism.
Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: William Ralph Inge held the position of Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in addition to his professorship, and he was typically referred to as Dean Inge. He did make a comparable remark in 1927 but disclaimed authorship. The earliest closely matching statement located by QI was published in the journal “The Nineteenth Century” in 1896 by the English writer and politician Herbert Paul: 1
And, after all, what is originality? It is merely undetected plagiarism.
The saying has a long history and important precursors were in circulation in the 1700s and 1800s as illustrated below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.