Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Hell is other people at breakfast" faux-quote goes viral

"Hell is other people at breakfast" faux-quote goes viral. But Jean-Paul Sartre never said that. That's what's so funny and sad about all this. Welcome to the Age of Internet Speed-Reading, Screen-reading, Screening and Skimming. Ouch!

By Dan E. Bloom

Occasional Say It in 17 Words Tele-contributor

This is how things work in the Internet Age. A witty writer in Boston sets up a fake quote from the late Jean-Paul Sartre back in 2003 in an article about introverts and
extroverts that was published in the Atlantic Monthly online and almost ten years later the fake quote -- "Hell is other people at breakfast" -- is still going strong on
blogs, emails and bonafide websites. Very few people have bothered to check if the quote is correct, since the correct quote from Sartre's famous play "No Exit" as
"Hell is other people." In French, Sartre wrote it out as "L'enfer, c'est les autres."

But Rauch's 2003 tongue-in-cheek witticism flew right past most of his readers then, and it is still flying past most people on the Internet now.
Worse, the New York Times Weekly edition, a 12 page insert that goes into 36 foreign newspapers around the world, recently put that fake quote
in a front page article, without fact-checking it or doing any newsroom research.

Kevin Delaney, writing for the Times insert, which appeared in my local Chinese-language newspaper here in Taiwan, noted on a front page story titled "The Yin and Yang of Personality": "As Sartre said: "Hell is other people at breakfast." And Delaney also told readers that the quote appeared in a "recent" article by Jonathan Rauch in the Atlantic
Monthly. Oops. Fact-checkers, where are you?

Delaney isn't alone. The manufactured Sartre quote has been picked up over the past few years by hundreds of bloggers and readers around the world who now believe that Sartre actually said that. He said no such thing. Google the quote to see it's real origins, and how it has morphed countless times into the Rauchian witticism, without most readers knowing it. The fake
quote has now taken on a life on its own, thanks to the speed at which people read online and the power of the Internet to spread false facts and quotes.

In Sartre's famous play titled "No Exit, Sartre had one of his characters say ''Hell is other people.'' Period, Nothing about breakfast, Not one word about breakfast. But bloggers and
readers of Rauch's faux pas, mixing up their p's and q's and never bothering to check if the quote is correct, do quote Sartre in the post-Rauchian way.

This led one American blogger in Africa to note recently on her blog: "Alain’s gone to the market this morning without me. We usually go together on Saturday mornings for each week’s produce and essentials. But today I needed some time alone. My friend Charlie recently sent me an article from 2003 in 'The Atlantic' about the nature of introverts. The author calls on Sartre with the quote, 'Hell is other people at breakfast'.''

And her blog is echoed by dozens, hundreds of other blogs, that quote the faux Sartre quote as if it was real, and at this point in time, even after several polite emails to Rauch, the Atlantic misquote from 2003 has not been ''explained'' online in an editor's note or corrected online. How much longer must one wait for Jonathan to wake up and admit he made a huge yet comic gaffe that has resounded around the world.

Poor Jean-Paul Sartre. He must be turning over in his grave after eating his breakfast in Hell. Of course, that is where all existentialists go!

There's more: when I contacted the New York Times by email this week, I was told "we're taking care of it." Apparently, the New York Times Weekly
edition will issue a correction about all this in one of the upcoming editions overseas. Not a word about this gaffe in the daily New York Times print
edition or any of its blogs. The Atlantic still has not responded to my emails. From Rauch, not a word, although a fellow Atlantic writer who knows
Jonathan said he will forward my query over to him.

When I asked someone in the legal department at the New York Times in Manhattan if this gaffe would be met with a correction or a news story about
how the fake Sartre quote has travelled so far in almost ten years, I was told: "Danny, I just heard from someone in the newsroom that the issue was being addressed. I think some other Sartre-ites also noticed the gaffe.''

And another writer who knows Rauch personally told me, and it's worth noting: ''I will pass all this on to Jonathan Rauch by email. How about that?
I think he was making a joke. He assumed people would know the real quote, but with time that is less true of course."

And there lies the existential problem: Rauch assumed in 2003 that readers would know the real quote, and would know that he was
making up his own fake quote to fit the theme and tone of his humorous magazine piece about introverts and extroverts. But with the passage
of time, almost ten years, and the power and sloth of Internet speed reading and skimming, Rauch's assumption has proven less true.

Is Hell really other people at breakfast? Now it is, and there is even a line of t-shirts hawking the message. Welcome to Age of Sloppy Screen-Reading.

And ''caveat emptor''. That means "be careful what you eat for breakast" -- in Latin. Kurt Vonnegut said that.


dan said...

Monday, March 10, 2008
LINDA got puncked and wrote:

''hell is other people at breakfast ''

can i get an amen? ;) i just heard this line from sartre, author of the play no exit, and i love it.

my dad was the perfect breakfast companion. we'd say good morning as we shuffled around the kitchen in our pjs and slippers, and that was pretty much the end of our breakfast conversation. then, we'd commence (if anyone has ever wondered my last name rhymes with "commence") to eat our cold cereal and read the newspapers in silence. we used to get 4 newspapers, 3 dailies and one weekly: the los angeles times, which i still get, the local paper, the weekly city paper, and the wall street journal. since i was the kid my dad would steal the good sections from me if he wanted to read them. i guess that's fair considering he had to leave for the office. my mother, whom i love dearly, is one of those people who wakes up in the morning and talk! she's wide awake and cheery and talkative in the morning. my mom likes to tell the story how when she and my dad first married she got up bright and early to fix him a nice hot breakfast, and he told her, "don't worry, go back to bed honey, i'm just fine with cereal and the paper." that's what being a bachelor for 50 years will do to you.
Posted by linda at 7:14 PM
Labels: emerging church, personal

dan said...

19 Dec 2007 – Not all introverts are as misanthropic as philosopher Sartre, who said, “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Some enjoy breakfast with people who ...

dan said...

09 July 2010
The Most Famous Thing Jean-Paul Sartre Never Said
By Kirk Woodward

[Once again, I have a contribution from Kirk Woodward, some thoughts on playwright and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and his famous and much-discussed play No Exit. ~Rick.]

There are certain things we all know even though we don’t know them. We all know, for example, that Winston Churchill said “blood, sweat, and tears,” even though that wasn’t what he actually said. (He said, “blood and sweat, toil and tears.”) We all know that St. Paul said that money is the root of all evil, even though he actually said that the love of money is the root of all evil. And we all know that Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” But did he?

dan said...


I saw a twist to the famous Sartre No Exit quote, "Hell is other people" on a t-shirt. It read "Hell is other people at breakfast." So I thought, shoot, ...

dan said...

22 Feb 2012 – For the introvert, as Rauch puts it (borrowing from Sartre), “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Whereas if you leave the extrovert alone for two ...

dan said...

24 Mar 2006

– Hell is other people at breakfast ... She pointed out this article by an American writer called Jonathan Rauch, who is, apparently, a senior writer ...

dan said...

Balancing the yin and yang of personality|Sunday Life|chinadaily -
3 days ago – 2012

As Sartre said, "Hell is other people at breakfast." ... Jonathan Rauch warned extroverts in the Atlantic Monthly: "Someone you know, respect, ...

dan said...

Balancing the yin and yang of personality
Updated: 2012-03-11 07:53By Kevin Delaney (The New York Times)

Print Mail Large Medium Small 0

The world is made up of introverts and extroverts, but even a showman like Bono seeks solitude to compose his lyrics. Stephane De Sakutin / Agence France-Presse - Getty Images

Liberals and conservatives. Believers and nonbelievers. Early birds and night owls.

They all cause one another headaches. Yet one of the most pervasive sources of human frustration is sometimes overlooked: the wall of misunderstanding separating introverts and extroverts.

As Sartre said, "Hell is other people at breakfast."

Unless your vision of hell is eating with someone so lost in his own thoughts that the conversation sputters and dies.

Nevertheless, the consensus seems to be that introverts are shortchanged in societies that reward outgoing, voluble and bossy extroverts. At least if the introverts - who tend to channel their inner laments into articles and books - are to be believed.

Jonathan Rauch warned extroverts in the Atlantic Monthly: "Someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts."

Susan Cain, in her book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," even blamed the dominance, risk-taking and mindless actions of extroverts for bringing down the global finance system in 2008.

Writing in The Times, Ms. Cain argued that, all too often, shyness and introspection are treated as social disorders: "Studies show that we rank fast and frequent talkers as more competent, likable and even smarter than slow ones." Even though, as the science writer Winifred Gallagher pointed out, "neither E = mc2 nor 'Paradise Lost' was dashed off by a party animal."

But try to imagine a world without irrepressible extroverts like Bono, Bill Clinton and Steve Jobs, inspiring, entertaining and simply getting things done (even if it takes a bit of bossiness mixed in with the nonstop talking jags).

Animal research shows that our evolutionary forebears reveal a balance of personality traits. As Natalie Angier wrote in The Times, "Highly sensitive, arty-type humans have a lot in common with squealing pigs and twitchy mice."

Among pumpkinseed sunfish, there are bold "rovers" and anxious "sitters." David Sloan Wilson, an evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, told The Times that the rovers sometimes get to food faster, but the cautious sitters are more likely to avoid nets.

In nature, Professor Wilson wrote, "There is no single best personality, but rather a diversity of personalities maintained by natural selection."

Meanwhile, many individuals balance personality traits. The ever-garrulous Bono must seek solitude to write his lyrics. But the "quiet" Beatle, George Harrison, also had a wild side.

Despite the inherent tensions between the two types, there are indications that the introvert-extrovert schism can be bridged. As The Times reported, one of the factors contributing to the general failure of many online dating services is that their algorithms seek to match extroverts with extroverts, introverts with introverts.

But such characteristics rarely predict the success of a relationship. A survey of more than 23,000 married couples in 2010 revealed that in unions between different personality types, such variations accounted for only 0.5 percent of what made couples happy or unhappy.

The same probably cannot be said about marriages between liberals and conservatives, believers and nonbelievers or early risers and late sleepers.

For comments, write to

(China Daily 03/11/2012 page9)

dan said...

Eat lunch alone - Tate - 頁庫存檔 - 翻譯這個網頁
您公開 +1 了這個項目。 復原

11 May 2011 – Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; ... of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say “Hell is other people at breakfast. ... Of a line that Rauch quotes — “Introverts don't outwardly complain, ...

dan said...

How to handle an introvert - Holy Kaw! - 翻譯這個網頁
您公開 +1 了這個項目。 復原
1 Aug 2011 – Self-identified introvert Jonathan Rauch at The Atlantic explains that if ... go along with Sartre as far as to say "Hell is other people at breakfast.
Strata Lucida: Hell is other people at - 頁庫存檔類似內容 - 翻譯這個網頁
您公開 +1 了這個項目。 復原
5 Jun 2004 – Hell is other people at breakfast. Reading Cary Tennis's column on Salon this morning, I discovered a great article by Jonathan Rauch on what ... - 頁庫存檔類似內容 - 翻譯這個網頁
您公開 +1 了這個項目。 復原
A conversation with Jonathan Rauch, the author who—thanks to an ... By definition, he explained, introverts are those who find other people's company tiring. ..... of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say "Hell is other people at breakfast.

dan said...

Just another indignity for us keepers of the truth!

- A

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