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I've always understood paraphrase to mean the repeat a quote without using the exact words.

However, recently I've seen increasing use of the word paraphrase to mean repeating a famous quotation with a twist. I.e. the original quote is given almost verbatim but applied to an entirely different area.

Am I correct in understanding that this second usage is incorrect?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

To paraphrase @Jeremy, No, you are incorrect. That's not the best example, but "to paraphrase oscar wilde" should get you over 50,000 hits, the vast majority of which will be OP's second usage.

It simply doesn't make sense to classify such a common usage as "incorrect". When people use paraphrase in this way they obviously don't mean they're trying to express Wilde's exact (or even approximate) original meaning in different words. Usually they're deliberately making a few well-chosen word changes to produce a witticism about something Wilde never had in mind.

It's true that express exactly the same sentiment in different words is one meaning of paraphrase, and I'm sure this must surely be the earlier usage. But it's certainly not the only meaning.

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Good point. It's muddy when a word usage goes from incorrect to in-use-by-popular-demand, and you're likely right that it's in use enough that it's in the second case. – Jeremy Sep 21 '11 at 6:34
Indeed. The OED’s definition 1a is ‘to express the meaning of (a written or spoken passage, or the words of an author or speaker) using different words, especially to achieve greater clarity; to render or translate freely’. However, definition 1c gives ‘to adapt, appropriate, or alter the wording of (a saying or quotation) or the words of (an author or speaker) to suit one's own purpose.’ The earliest citation in that sense is dated 1841. – Barrie England Sep 21 '11 at 8:02
I'm pretty sure that changing "Yes, you are correct" to "No, you are incorrect" doesn't qualify under any definition. But I have to agree with the rest of your answer. – Winston Ewert Sep 21 '11 at 16:38
+1 Congrats on 16K! – Daniel Sep 21 '11 at 20:14
@drɱ65: Good grief! It's worse than having birthdays! I'll have to start doling out more bonuses to delay the 17K mark! – FumbleFingers Sep 21 '11 at 21:16

Yes, you are correct. To paraphrase is to attempt capture the intended meaning of a quote without using the same words. To change the quote to give it a twist or to apply it in a new context might be interesting, but it's just not paraphrasing.

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