From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Illeism (/ˈɪli.ɪzəm/) is the act of referring to oneself in the third person instead of first person. It is sometimes used in literature as a stylistic device. In real-life usage, illeism can reflect a number of different stylistic intentions or involuntary circumstances. The term Illeism comes from Latin ille meaning "he, that".

In literature[edit]

Early literature such as Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico or Xenophon's Anabasis, both ostensibly non-fictional accounts of wars led by their authors, used illeism to impart an air of objective impartiality, which included justifications of the author's actions. In this way personal bias is presented, albeit dishonestly, as objectivity.

In an essay, theologian Richard B. Hays challenged earlier findings that he disagrees with: "These were the findings of one Richard B. Hays, and the newer essay treats the earlier work and earlier author at arms' length."[1]

Illeism may also be used to show idiocy, as with the character Mongo in Blazing Saddles, e.g. "Mongo like candy" and "Mongo only pawn in game of life"; though it may also show innocent simplicity, as it does with Harry Potter's Dobby the Elf ("Dobby has come to protect, even if he does have to shut his ears in the oven door").[citation needed] The childlike Sesame Street character Elmo almost exclusively speaks in the third person.

In the Babylonian Talmud and related texts, illeism is used extensively, often taking the form of the speaker utilizing the expression hahu gavra ("that man") when referring to himself.[2]

In everyday speech[edit]

In different contexts, illeism can be used to reinforce self-promotion, as used to sometimes comic effect by Bob Dole throughout his political career ("When the president is ready to deploy, Bob Dole is ready to lead the fight on the Senate Floor", Bob Dole speaking about the Strategic Defense Initiative at the NCPAC convention, 1987). This was particularly made notable during the United States presidential election of 1996 and lampooned broadly in popular media for years afterwards. Deepanjana Pal of Firstpost noted that speaking in the third person "is a classic technique used by generations of Bollywood scriptwriters to establish a character's aristocracy, power and gravitas".[3]

On the other hand, third person self-referral can be associated with self-deprecation, irony, and not taking oneself too seriously (since the excessive use of pronoun "I" is often seen as a sign of narcissism and egocentrism),[4] as well as with eccentricity in general. Psychological studies show that thinking and speaking of oneself in the third person increases wisdom and has a positive effect on one's mental state because an individual who does so is more intellectually humble, more capable of empathy and understanding the perspectives of others, and is able to distance emotionally from one's own problems.[5][6][7]

Accordingly, in certain Eastern religions, like Hinduism, illeism is sometimes seen as a sign of enlightenment, since through it, an individual detaches their eternal self (atman) from their bodily form; in particular, Jnana yoga encourages its practitioners to refer to themselves in the third person.[8] Known illeists of that sort include Swami Ramdas,[9] Ma Yoga Laxmi,[10] Anandamayi Ma,[11] and Mata Amritanandamayi.[12]

A number of celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe,[13][14] Alice Cooper,[15] and Deanna Durbin,[16] referred to themselves in the third person to distance their public persona from their actual self. Mary J. Blige, in her song Family Affair, introduces herself in the third person.

Some parents use illeism (refer to themselves as "Daddy" or "Mommy") because very young children may not yet understand that the pronouns "I" and "you" refer to different people based on context.[17][18] Toddlers acquiring speech often refer to themselves in third person before learning proper usage of the pronoun "I", and their speech evolves past using illeism once they develop a strong sense of self-recognition, often before age two.[19]

Notable illeists[edit]

Real people[edit]



  • After pitching Game 5 of the ALDS, Johnny Cueto (b. 1986) gave a post game interview in the third person.[34]


Religion and spirituality[edit]


Fictional characters[edit]



  • Doctor Doom is known for more often than not referring to himself as "Doom" instead of "me" or "I".[79]
  • The Hulk[79]
  • Mantis almost always refers to herself as "Mantis", "she", and "this one"; this has to do with her upbringing at the Temple of the Priests of Pama, an alien pacifistic sect heavily inspired by real-life Eastern religious movements.[80]



Manga and anime[edit]

Video games[edit]


  • Jabari "The Safari" Hightower (played by Lou Wilson) in Not Another D&D Podcast

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Richard B. Hays, “‘Here We Have No Lasting City’: New Covenantalism in Hebrews” in Richard J. Bauckham et al. (eds.), The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 151–173, esp. 151–152, 167.
  2. ^ Cf. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chagigah 15a
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