I’ve noticed a somewhat widespread tendency for writers to use the expression “to paraphrase” in something like the opposite of its proper meaning. “To paraphrase” properly means, as far as I know, to express the same idea using a different form of words. But many people now seem to use it to mean something like “to express a different idea using a similar form of words.”
For example, in this (otherwise excellent!) blog post about torture, Andrew Sullivan writes:
To paraphrase Hitch: torture poisons everything.
Now, this isn’t quite right, is it? If Sullivan were paraphrasing Christopher Hitchens’ statement that “religion poisons everything,” he’d be expressing the same idea as Hitchens, but in his own words. He’d say something like “religion morally taints everything it comes in contact with.” That’s a paraphrase. What Sullivan’s doing is adapting Hitchens’ words to express a different thought: that torture taints everything it comes into contact with.
This problem isn’t as widespread or irritating as the now-ubiquitous abuse of “begs the question,” but it makes me wonder if there is a term or expression to describe what is properly the adaptation of someone else’s specific words to express a different idea.
Am I the only one who’s noticed this?