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I have used the phrase:

"There are not enough words in the tongues of men, elves, dwarves, trolls, goblins, or beasts to describe how disgusting..."

in a couple of reviews of mine, which someone has pointed out is very similar to this:

"There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for this treachery." by Treebeard from Lord of the Rings

While the meaning of the sentence and the sentence structure are similar, they only share one or two words. Is this plagiarism, or just two similar sentences?

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3 Answers 3

I'm hoping those weren't restaurant reviews!

Also, IMHO, your phrase is a nod to Tolkien, a literary allusion. That is not plagiarism, any more than it would be plagiarism to say at the end of a review of a robotics show, "Next year, for sure, I'll be back."

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First, no, not restaurant reviews, also, what is the robotics quote? I don't recognize it –  Chuck Fulminata Jan 23 at 5:24
    
Never mind, I got it, I'm slow –  Chuck Fulminata Jan 23 at 5:34

When a phrase from a novel or movie becomes so widespread that it can be considered a common figure of speech, using it is no longer plagiarism.

No-one in their right mind would accuse you of plagiarism when you opened a review with: "To read or not to read, that is the question."

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is one of the most read books of our time, and using certain catchphrases from it cannot be seen as plagiarism, for the simple fact that everyone and their grandmother recognize the borrowing. The basic prerequisite for plagiarsim is that you want to deceive your readers about the authorship of your sentences, and you cannot deceive anyone if everyone knows that that sentence is not from you.

And it doesn't matter, if you thought that that was your sentence and the similarity is merely coincidental.

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I think it's the "tongues" which caught everyone's eye. That faux high English hearkens back to Tolkien's diction, which makes people recall his version.

Change it up. Rearrange the order and add a little hyperbole:

In all the dialects of all the languages of all the cultures of men, elves, dwarves, trolls, goblins, or beasts, there are not enough words to describe how disgusting...

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But it is a homage, it is supposed to be a nod, a homage. –  Chuck Fulminata Jan 23 at 5:23
2  
If it's supposed to be an homage, then it's not similar enough. If you want it to evoke Tolkien, then pick something really obvious and lampshade it. This is just close enough to make me think you copied it (either consciously or unconsciously) but not blatant enough to make it clear that you were trying to tip your hat deliberately. It's too subtle. –  Lauren Ipsum Jan 23 at 10:37
    
Hmm, an interesting puzzle –  Chuck Fulminata Jan 23 at 20:09

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