New York Times correction: Hell is not other people at breakfast

The New York Times International Weekly, an 8 to 12-page supplement inserted in newspapers around the world, published this correction earlier in the week:

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

The New York Times International Weekly corrects a mangled Sartre quote
The New York Times International Weekly corrects a mangled Sartre quote.

Though not available online, I received a photo of the print version of the correction from Taiwan-based journalist Dan Bloom. (The original, incorrect item is placed to the left of the correction.)

Bloom is the eagle-eyed reader who spotted the Sartre misquote last week and requested a correction. (Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon previously wrote about this quote, which has taken on a life of its own.)

Bloom has since written several articles and blog posts about how this misquote made it into circulation. Here’s him writing for The Wrap:

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 10 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” is actually, “Hell is other people.” In French, Sartre wrote it out as, “L’enfer, c’est les autres.”

The writer in question is Jonathan Rauch, who playfully altered the Sartre quote in a piece about introverts and extroverts. Bloom notes that the Rauch quote was reused in this recent Huffington Post blog post about personality types, which Bloom believes was consulted by the Times writer who used the incorrect quote in the paper.

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  • Anonymous

    ……Dan Bloom’s real point, re how faux things go viral in this day and age ,  is equally intriguing and interesting – in this age of massive information flow with all the writers in a hurry to blog and publish, (not to mention Photoshop) what or who can you trust?

  • Anonymous

    Lauren, from the play text online, the very last line of the play, spokenby a character named Garcin:

    ”This bronze. [Strokes it thoughtfully.] Yes, now’s the moment; I’m looking at this thing on the mantelpiece, and I understand that I’m in Hell. I tell you, everything’s been thought out beforehand. They knew I’d stand at the fireplace, stroking this thing of bronze, with all those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. [He swings around abruptly.] What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. [Laughs.] So this is Hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is – other people!”

  • Anonymous

    and ”BEPLEASED” , a Chinese student of English in China, who is now aware the quote was fake, thanks to Poynter, asked on a forum for students of English:

    ”Hi, It’s very interesting that it was a fake quote instead of the original quote. But how was a person in La Chine reading the trustworthy New York Times Weekly in Beijing to know that a witty writer in Boston [Jonathan Rauch]set up a fake quote? He did not really signal to readers he was joking, did he? Or did I miss something? And the “Dan Bloom” comment means what? How to associate “Hell is other people” with “unless your vision of hell is eating with someone so lost in his own thoughts that the conversation sputters and dies.”? Could you clear up my conundrum, I will be extremely grateful. Thank you! ”

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Mr Silverman, for a good French wrap-up of the entire megillah. There are still 3 things I want to find out: 1. how exactly did the Times staffer who added the Sartre misquote (thinking it was a real quote) to his Weekly “Lens” column do it without any fact-checking of source material and why wasn’t his Lens piece factcheck or vetted by an editor as well. We all know Sartre never said “Hell is other people at breakfast” — well, those of us who were French majors at college; 2. is Jon Rauch aware that his 2003 jokey misquote with tongue firnly in cheek has gone viral since then and does he feel any responsibily or existential guilt over the entire “L’enfer, c’est les autres au petit dejuener” um, er,
    “affaire”? and; 3. Will the editors at the Atlantic ever issue a “clarification” or correction of the 2003 jokey faux quote for those who might have missed Rauch’s humorous intent?

  • Lauren Standifer

     Ok, fine, but it’s still a really obnoxious quote.

  • Josh Barone

    No, Lauren, the line toward the end of the play is “L’enfer c’est les Autres”—”Hell is other people.”

  • Lauren Standifer

    FOR THE RECORD, “Hell is other people” at no point appears in the play No Exit. That’s just the trite little sentence everybody uses to sum up the play’s theme.