Every Word Has Consequences. Every Silence, Too

Jean-Paul Sartre? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Did the famous existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre say the following:

Every word has consequences. Every silence, too.

I am trying to find a citation for the original French version. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Jean-Paul Sartre believed that writers should be politically engaged. He was a founder of the journal “Les Temps Modernes”, and he presented his viewpoint on activism in the first issue in 1945: 1

L’écrivain est en situation dans son époque: chaque parole a des retentissements. Chaque silence aussi. Je tiens Flaubert et Goncourt pour responsables de la répression qui suivit la Commune parce qu’ils n’ont pas écrit une ligne pour l’empêcher. Ce n’était, pas leur affaire, dira-t-on. Mais le procès de Calas, était-ce l’affaire de Voltaire? La condamnation de Dreyfus, était-ce l’affaire de Zola?

One possible translation into English appeared in the 1982 book “The French Left: A History & Overview” by Arthur Hirsh: 2

The writer is situated in his time. Every word has consequences. Every silence, too. I hold Flaubert and Goncourt responsible for the repression which followed the Commune because they did not write one line to prevent it. One might say that it was not their business. But was the Calas trial Voltaire’s business? Dreyfus’ condemnation Zola’s?

The questions were rhetorical. Voltaire and Zola both took strong political stances, and Sartre argued that other writers should follow a similar policy of advocacy. Intellectuals should not be silent he maintained.

Below are two more citations and a conclusion. Continue reading Every Word Has Consequences. Every Silence, Too


  1. 1945 October, Les Temps Modernes: Revue Mensuelle, Volume 1, Number 1, Présentation by Jean-Paul Sartre, Start Page 1, Quote Page 5, Publisher: Temps Modernes, Paris, France. (Verified with scans; thanks to the library system of Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana)
  2. 1982, The French Left: A History & Overview by Arthur Hirsh, Chapter 2: The Existentialist Challenge, Quote Page 41, Black Rose Books, Montréal, Quebéc, Canada. (Google Books Preview)

The More Sand Has Escaped from the Hourglass of Our Life, the Clearer We Should See Through It

Niccolò Machiavelli? Jean-Paul Sartre? Jean Paul? Johann Paul Friedrich Richter?

Dear Quote Investigator: A student would like to use the following quotation about perspicacity gained through experience in a yearbook, but she has been unable to determine an appropriate ascription:

The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.

These words are often attributed to Niccolò Machiavelli or Jean-Paul Sartre which I think is an eccentric juxtaposition. I was unable to find precise citations for either of these individuals. Would you help resolve this question?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a German novel titled “Hesperus oder 45 Hundsposttage, Eine Biographie” published in 1795 by Johann Paul Friedrich Richter who used the pen name Jean Paul. “The Oxford Companion to German Literature” described the work as follows: 1

The eccentric sub-title refers to the chapters, which are designated Hundsposttage, and are supposed to have been brought to the author’s friend by a Pomeranian dog. Written in Jean Paul’s characteristic whimsical style, the book has a complex and absurd plot.

The quotation about a figurative hourglass referred to a single individual named Emanuel in the novel. The statement was later generalized to encompass all people. Here is the relevant passage in German followed by one possible English translation: 2

Emanuel sah ruhig wie eine ewige Sonne, auf den Herbst seines Körpers herab; ja je mehr Sand aus seiner Lebens-Sanduhr herausgefallen war, desto heller sah er durch das leere Glas hindurch.

Emanuel looked peacefully as an eternal sundown upon the autumn of his body; indeed the more sand had fallen out of his life-hourglass, the clearer he saw through the empty glass.

In 1837 a weekly journal called “The New-York Mirror” printed an article titled “Original Translations: Scraps from Jean Paul” which included a version of the quotation together with other adages from Richter. Here are three examples: 3

Our sorrows are like thunder clouds, which seem black in the distance, but grow lighter as they approach.

The more sand has escaped from the hour-glass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.

The moon is a light-house on the shore of the other world.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The More Sand Has Escaped from the Hourglass of Our Life, the Clearer We Should See Through It


  1. Website: Answers.com, Reference Source: The Oxford Companion to German Literature from Oxford University Press, Category: Literature & Language: German Literature Companion, Topic: Hesperus oder 45 Hundsposttage, eine Biographie: Novel by Jean Paul, Text licensed by Answers Corporation. (Accessed answers.com on December 14, 2013) link
  2. 1795, Hesperus; oder, 45 hundsposttage: Eine Biographie by Jean Paul (Johann Paul Friedrich Richter), Quote Page 345, Karl Matzdorffs Buchhandlung, Berlin, Germany. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1837 May 13, The New-York Mirror: A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts, Volume XIV, Number 46, Original Translations: Scraps from Jean Paul, Quote Page 362, Column 2, New York. (Google Books full view)(Please note that the metadata supplied for this match by Google Books is inaccurate; the data in this citation is based on the page images) link

“To Be Is To Do” “To Do Is To Be” “Do Be Do Be Do”

Kurt Vonnegut? Frank Sinatra? Jean-Paul Sartre? Dale Carnegie? Bud Crew? Socrates? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The 1982 novel “Deadeye Dick” by the popular author Kurt Vonnegut mentioned the following piece of graffiti:

“To be is to do”—Socrates.
“To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

I think this tripartite list first appeared in bathroom stalls in the 1960s or 1970s, but sometimes different authors were specified. Could you explore the history of this humorous scrawled message?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published description located by QI of a graffito that conformed to this template appeared in the “Dallas Morning News” of Dallas, Texas in January 1968. According to the columnist Paul Crume the graffito was created in an incremental process by three different people. The initiator was a local businessman in Richardson, Texas: 1

Bud Crew says that a month ago he wrote this on the warehouse wall at Bud’s Tool Cribs in Richardson: “‘The way to do is to be.’—Leo-tzu, Chinese philosopher.”

A few days later, a salesman wrote under that: “‘The way to be is to do.’—Dale Carnegie,”

Recently, says Crew, an anonymous sage has added still another axiom: “‘Do be, do be, do.’ — Frank Sinatra.”

The phrase ascribed to the famous vocalist Sinatra was derived from his version of the song “Strangers in the Night” which was a number-one hit in 1966. Near the end of the track Sinatra sang a sequence of nonsense syllables that could be transcribed as “do de do be do” or “do be do be do”. This distinctive and memorable stylization has sometimes been parodied. 2

In July 1968 this graffito tale was included in a syndicated series called “Weekend Chuckles” from General Features Corporation; hence, it achieved wide dissemination. Some details were omitted, e.g., Bud Crew’s name was not given, but the graffito was nearly identical. The spelling of “Leo-tzu” was changed to “Lao-tse”: 3

One fellow was inspired to write on a warehouse wall: “The way to do is to be.—Lao-tse, Chinese philosopher.”

A few days later, a salesman wrote under that: “The way to be is to do.—Dale Carnegie.”

Recently an anonymous sage has added still another message: “Do be, do be, do.—Frank Sinatra.”

In January 1969 a real-estate agent named Joe Griffith ran an advertisement in a South Carolina newspaper that included the tripartite message. The first two statements in this instance were shortened and simplified. In addition, one of the attributions was switched to Socrates: 4

Joe Griffith Sez:
“TO BE IS TO DO” Dale Carnegie
“TO DO IS TO BE” Socrates
“DO BE DO BE DO” Frank Sinatra

The message continued to evolve over the decades and many philosophers and authors have been substituted into the template including: Dale Carnegie, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, John Stuart Mill, William James, William Shakespeare, and Bertrand Russell. The punchline ascribed to Frank Sinatra, in some form, is usually preserved though a variety of other lines have been added to the joke as shown in the 1990 citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “To Be Is To Do” “To Do Is To Be” “Do Be Do Be Do”


  1. 1968 January 29, Dallas Morning News, Paul Crume’s Big D, Quote Page A1, Column 6, Dallas, Texas. (The spelling “Leo-Tzu” is used in the original text instead of the more common “Lao-Tzu”) (GenealogyBank)
  2. YouTube video, Title: Strangers in The Night – Frank Sinatra, Artist: Frank Sinatra, Uploaded on July 6, 2007, Uploaded by: kumpulanvideo, (Quotation starts at 2 minute 23 seconds of 5 minutes 10 seconds) (Accessed on youtube.com on October 18, 2013) link
  3. 1968 July 28, Times-Picayune, Section 2, Weekend Chuckles, (Syndicated by General Features Corp.), Quote Page 3, Column 1, New Orleans, Louisiana, (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1969 January 31, The News and Courier (Charleston News and Courier), (Advertisement for Joe Griffith Inc., Realtor), Quote Page 15B, Column 2, Charleston, South Carolina. (GenealogyBank)