Somebody else's problem

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Somebody else's problem (also known as someone else's problem or SEP) is a phrase coined comedically by Douglas Adams that refers to a "field" that hides objects. It has since passed into common usage, usually to refer to things people don't see, or don't want to see.


In Douglas Adams's 1982 novel Life, the Universe and Everything (in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy comedy science fiction series), the character Ford Prefect says,

An SEP is something we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem. That’s what SEP means. Somebody Else’s Problem. The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot.

The narration then explains:

The Somebody Else's Problem field... relies on people's natural predisposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain. If Effrafax had painted the mountain pink and erected a cheap and simple Somebody Else’s Problem field on it, then people would have walked past the mountain, round it, even over it, and simply never have noticed that the thing was there.

References by others[edit]

Since the publication of the novel Life, the Universe and Everything, the phrase has been used by others, such as:

  • Referring to a team working on a computer programming project, Alan F. Blackwell once wrote: "Many sub-goals can be deferred to the degree that they become what is known amongst professional programmers as an 'S.E.P.' – somebody else's problem."[1]
  • Christopher Negus, writing on the origin of Unix at Bell Labs in the 1970s, described Bell Labs at the time as "a think tank where ideas came first and profits were somebody else's problem".[2]
  • It has been used as a fictitious example of "psychological invisibility".[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blackwell, Alan F.; Arnold, H.L. (January 1997). "Simulating a Software Project: The PoP Guns go to War". Proceedings of the 9th Annual Meeting of the Psychology of Programming Interest Group: 53–60. Archived from the original on 2008-10-25. Retrieved 2015-03-24. 
  2. ^ Negus, Christopher (2006-05-10). "Linux's roots in Unix (part 1, chapter 1, section 3)". Fedora 5 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 Bible. Bible (Book 327). New York: Wiley. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-4717-5491-6. OCLC 69746564. Archived from the original on 2013-12-13. Retrieved 2015-03-25 – via TechTarget. 
  3. ^ Sight unseen, Catherine Schulz, The New Yorker, April 13, 2015