Being, nothingness, and a fake Sartre quote that won’t die

Chicago Tribune
Writing in the Atlantic in 2003, Jonathan Rauch made a joke. “Introverts are also not misanthropic,” he wrote, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say ‘Hell is other people at breakfast.’” Jean-Paul Sartre said nothing about bagels, but the Internet has turned Rauch’s bon mot into fact.

Mary Schmich was alerted to a piece by Kevin Delaney that “quoted” Sartre’s Rauch-written aphorism by Dan Bloom, a Taiwan-based blogger who spotted it in a Times supplement distributed with a Chinese newspaper. (I can vouch for Bloom’s interest in this matter; he’s copied me on 10 emails that he’s sent to the Times and others about the gaffe.)

Schmich called Fred Shapiro, who edited “The Yale Book of Quotations.” “Any time you see a quote attributed to Mark Twain, figure that one is false,” Shapiro told her. “Similarly with Yogi Berra and Benjamin Franklin.” (Indeed, Mike Daisey got a Twain quote wrong when he published his now-famous nonapology.) Schmich writes that one of her lines is now frequently attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, and that something she didn’t write is now often attributed to her.

Schmich warns readers to be wary of online quotes, but you don’t have to bother your iPhone to read an inaccurate quote. I live in the Washington, D.C., area, where a mangled quote recently got carved in stone, which is actually kind of a tradition around here.

It’s too bad Rauch didn’t make Sartre say “Hell is other people at brunch.” No one would have ever questioned that.

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  • Anonymous

    Says Juan Galva in Spain re the faux Sartre brouhaha: “The Internet Age eats up all the carefulness and precision when it comes to communicating. good for all those who take care of this!”

  • Anonymous

    Craig Silverman byline article mangled by copy editors at Toronto STAr here; ””Newsmangled: In the Internet age, Satre (sic) misquote won’t go away”

  • Anonymous

    from the NEW YORK TIMES WEEKLY edition overseas in 26 nations – (this is what  I saw today with my own eyes in my local paper here in Taiwan) March 27 re the March 13 gaffe goof faux quote engineered by Times staff writer Kevin Delany who still has not explained how he made the gaffe without fact-checking the original Jonathan Rauch 2003 humorous misquote on purpose in the Atlantic as part of a humorous essay on introverts and extraverts. Kevin? The floor is all yours,….dish!
    CORRECTION A Lens column  earlier  thismonth about introverts andextraverts  misquoted   theFrench  philosopher  Jean-Paul  Sartre.   The  correctquote is “Hell is other peo-ple,” not “Hell is other peo-ple at breakfast.”CORRECTION

    A Lens column  earlier  this
    month about introverts and
    extraverts  misquoted   the
    French  philosopher  Jean-
    Paul  Sartre.   The  correct
    quote is “Hell is other peo-
    ple,” not “Hell is other peo-
    ple at breakfast.”
    ===============

  • Anonymous

    Eric Harrison over at ClassicalValues blog says in an important thing here in his recent comment, and in a way it explains how the intentionally made up quote got so much traction, because Rauch did not really signal to readers that he was kidding, kidding. But Eric notes, and it is well said: “I’m now wondering, does the 2003 faux Rauch really quote Sartre as saying exactly that? Or is Rauch qualifying the Sartre quote the way introverts would partially apply it? …Sure, what Sartre said was “Hell is other people.” But Rauch prefaces his remarks by saying introverts are not misanthropes, which means they probably don’t think ALL people are hell. So if they think that Hell is “other people at breakfast” isn’t that saying they go along with Sartre, but only so far? ”

  • Anonymous

    re SARTRE faux quote story in NYTimes Weekly edition overseas in 26 countries, and follow up reported by Chicago Trib and Poynter here ,……. the  NYT editing staff tells me just now: ”Dear Danny,
    We are publishing a correction on the Sartre gaffe this week. Thanks for pointing out the error to us.
    Cheers,Tom, editor, Weekly section

  • Anonymous

    By the way, that same faux Sartre misquote re breakfast in hell appeared last week in 26 overseas editions of the branded New York Times Weekly insert, in a front page piece penned by Kevin Delaney, who may or may not be a Times staffer, including these prominent papers: The Observer in the UK, The Korea Times in the USA, Le Figaro in France, of all places, The China Daily in Beijing, circulation in the billions, the Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo, and the Toronot Star. The Sartre Huis Clos Reclamation Project has been told that a correction will appear on either page 1 or page two of the Times insert in all 26 overseas editions next Tuesday. When we spot it, we will relay the contents of the “correction” here. Craig Silverman, the corrections guru, might be interested.

  • Anonymous

    and Andrew, bravo, a very good write up and punchline, too. Loved it. Now I am working even harder to get the NYTimes to issue a correction in the international edition, and the editor in charge of all this in NYC promised me it will appear “soon” whatever that means. and I am also asking Jim Bennet at the ATL MTHLY to issue some kind of “department of clarification” notice in print and online mag to alert readers to the 2003 brand of humor that NOT everybody understood as humor. Jim has not promised anything, in fact, he has decided to ignore me and NOT answer my 100 emails to him. And you know what that means: WAR. As for Jon Rauch, the existential humorist, he also does not reply to my polite emails to the addy on his website page. People are so rude these days. What’s wrong with America?

  • Anonymous

    Friend at Princeton author Edward Tenner tells me re this brouhaha in a French tea bag: ”…..  There’s some academic study of how quotes are falsified.Folklorists call the addition of falsely specific details”sharpening.”  Quotes by people who become obscure are often laterattributed to famous ones to give them more authority. Good luck withyour crusade, but this problem was recognized long before the Web, asearly as the mid-19th century.  “Error is immortal,” they put it then.I haven’t been able to find who said that first.”
    –Edward Tenner