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Is there a difference between emulating, copying and imitating? We all do one form or another of this. Every time I hear “a ton” of something in a written or television piece, I cringe. This is an example of someone or many imitating a word usage that is far beyond cliché, all the way into trite.

But what happens if you wear something I like and I want some item of clothing that is similar? It seems to me that if I buy an article that is exactly the same, I am copying you. If I buy an item that is similar, I am emulating. And with the possibility that I am poking fun or criticizing (not necessarily your taste in clothing), I am imitating.

This is fun because I am so specific about the words I use. To many others, the words may be interchangeable. And sometimes, the differences between them get blurry, depending on the age and sophistication of people involved.

Very often, I hear “don’t copy me” in the classroom. It rarely means, don’t write what I just wrote as compared to don’t do what I just did. Kids often decide that they are saying or doing something special and unique. Anyone who attempts a similar action or speech pattern is committing the infraction of copying.

If we make the comparison larger in scope, civil disobedience is copied or imitated behavior, but not emulated. But let’s not forget that imitation is reputedly the highest form of flattery. Does that mean that if you riot in your city, I am flattering you by rioting in mine? I think not.

The proverbial bottom line is that the behavior is copied if I don’t like it (or it’s illegal in the form of plagiarism). If it’s flattering, you are emulating me. You may be complimenting my style or methods or something I cannot identify. If you are imitating me, my best guess is that it’s a form of compliment, as long as it’s not verbatim imitation, another word for theft.

Most likely, I’ll probably engage in more word dissections as time continues. In the interim, feel free to ask for assistance rather than copying (appropriating) what I do. Shalom.

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