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Illeism // (from Latin ille meaning "he, that") 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.
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.
Illeism can also be used in literature to provide a twist, wherein the identity of the narrator as the main character is hidden from the reader until later in the story (e.g. one Arsène Lupin story where the narrator is Arsène Lupin but hides his own identity); the use of third person implies external observation. A similar use is when the author injects himself into his own third person narrative story as a character, such as Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation, Douglas Coupland in JPod, and Clive Cussler's novels, beginning with Dragon.
It can also be used as a device to illustrate the feeling of "being outside one's body and watching things happen", a psychological disconnect resulting from dissonance either from trauma such as childhood physical or sexual abuse, or from past outbursts that cannot be reconciled with the individual's own self-image. The same kind of objective distance can be employed for other purposes. Theologian Richard B. Hays writes an essay where he challenges 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."
A common device in science fiction is for robots, computers, and other artificial life to refer to themselves in the third person, e.g. "This unit is malfunctioning" or "Number Five is alive" (said by Johnny Five in Short Circuit), to suggest that these creatures are not truly self-aware, or that they separate their consciousness from their physical form.
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").
In everyday speech
Illeism in everyday speech can have a variety of intentions depending on context. One common usage is to impart humility, a common practice in feudal societies and other societies where honorifics are important to observe ("Your servant awaits your orders"), as well as in Master–Slave relationships ("This slave needs to be punished"). Recruits in the military, mostly United States Marine Corps recruits, are also often made to refer to themselves in the third person, such as "this recruit", in order to reduce the sense of individuality and enforce the idea of the group being more important than the self. The use of illeism in this context imparts a sense of lack of self, implying a diminished importance of the speaker in relation to the addressee or to a larger whole.
Conversely, 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".
On the other hand, third person self-referral can be associated with self-irony and not taking oneself too seriously (since the excessive use of pronoun "I" is often seen as a sign of narcissism and egocentrism), 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. Accordingly, in certain Eastern religions, like Hinduism, illeism is sometimes seen as a sign of enlightenment, since through it, an individual detaches his eternal self (atman) from his bodily form; in particular, Jnana yoga encourages its practitioners to refer to themselves in the third person. Known illeists of that sort include Swami Ramdas, Ma Yoga Laxmi, Anandamayi Ma, and Mata Amritanandamayi.
Young children in Japan commonly refer to themselves by their own name. This is due to the Japanese way of speaking, in which referring to another in the third person is considered more polite than using any of the Japanese words for "you". As a Japanese child grows older they normally switch to using first person references. Japanese idols also may refer to themselves in the third person so to give off the feeling of childlike cuteness.
- Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico (58–49 BC) present the author's exploits in the Gallic War in the third person.
- Henry Adams, historian, author and descendant of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, throughout his autobiography The Education of Henry Adams (1918)
- General Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964) was known to refer to himself as "MacArthur" in telling stories involving himself
- Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970)
- Richard Nixon (1913–94)
- Bob Dole (born 1923), during his United States presidential campaign in 1996
- Mikhail Gorbachev (born 1931), Russian politician
- Paulo Maluf (born 1931), Brazilian politician
- Bernie Sanders (born 1941) used third person in his presidential campaign in 2016.
- Donald Trump (born 1946) used the third person repeatedly during his presidency.
- Herman Cain (1945–2020), during his United States presidential campaign in 2012
- Narendra Modi (born 1950), Prime Minister of India
- Anthony Garotinho (born 1960), Brazilian politician
- Roy Kwong Chun-yu (born 1983), District Councilor and legislator of Hong Kong
- After pitching Game 5 of the ALDS, Johnny Cueto gave a post game interview in the third person.
- Gregg Easterbrook, sports journalist, refers to himself as "TMQ" or "your columnist" in his weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback columns.
- Zlatan Ibrahimović
- LeBron James made several references to himself in the third person during The Decision program on ESPN in 2010.
- Rickey Henderson occasionally referred to himself as "Rickey".
- Karl Malone
- Diego Maradona
- Lothar Matthäus is quoted with the phrase: "A Lothar Matthäus does not let himself be beaten by his body. A Lothar Matthäus decides on his fate himself."
- Cam Newton, NFL quarterback, referred to himself in third person during his press conference at the NFL Combine in 2011.
- Billy Davies
- Alice Cooper
- Flavor Flav
- Dwayne Johnson referenced himself in the third person as The Rock during his pro wrestling career, particularly with the catchphrases "The Rock says" and "Do you smell what The Rock is cookin'?" and uses third person pronouns to refer to himself.
- Gina Lollobrigida
- Hedy Lamarr
- Jean Harlow
- Deanna Durbin
- Marilyn Monroe
- Lila Morillo
- Mr. T; illeism became one of his trademarks in the 1980s.
- Virtual YouTuber Usada Pekora
Religion and spirituality
- Anandamayi Ma
- Mata Amritanandamayi
- Swami Ramdas
- Rama Tirtha
- Ma Yoga Laxmi, the secretary of Osho
- Jesus Christ is found referring to Himself as "Jesus" (as well as the "Son of Man"), as in John 17:1–3.
- Salvador Dalí in his interview with Mike Wallace, also known as The Mike Wallace Interview, on April 19, 1958.
- Norman Mailer's non-fiction work, The Fight (1975), refers to the author in the third person throughout The Fight, explaining why he has chosen to do so at the beginning of the book.
- David Gries often refers to himself as "gries" when lecturing at Cornell University or interacting with students on Piazza.
- Judith Martin in her etiquette newspaper column "Miss Manners."
- Major Bagstock, the apoplectic retired Indian army officer from Charles Dickens' Dombey and Son (1848) refers to himself solely as Joseph, Old Joe, Joey B, Bagstock, Josh, J.B., Anthony Bagstock, and other variants of his own name.
- Captain Hook in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Wendy (1911): "'Better for Hook,' he cried, 'if he had had less ambition!' It was in his darkest hours only that he referred to himself in the third person."[This quote needs a citation]
- Gollum from The Lord of the Rings (1954–5) spoke in an idiosyncratic manner, often referring to himself in the third person, and frequently talked to himself—"through having no one else to speak to", as Tolkien put it in The Hobbit.
- Charlie from the acclaimed novel Flowers for Algernon (1959) speaks in third person in the "being outside one's body and watching things happen" manner in his flashbacks to his abusive and troubled childhood suffering from phenylketonuria.
- Boday, a quirky female artist from Jack Chalker's Changewinds trilogy (1987–8).
- Y. T., a teenage girl from Snow Crash (1992) by Neal Stephenson.
- Bast the Wood Elf from The Council Wars series by John Ringo.
- The healer and wisewoman Magda Digby from the Owen Archer series (1993–2019) by Candace Robb.
- Jaqen H'ghar, an assassin of the Faceless Men in the fantasy suite A Song of Ice and Fire (1996–), consistently refers to himself ("a man") and sometimes the person he is addressing (i.e. "a girl") in third person.[This quote needs a citation]
- Dobby the Elf in the Harry Potter series (1997–2007).
- Ramona, the housekeeper and mentor in Silver Ravenwolf's Witches Chillers series (2000–1).
- The old man Nakata from Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore (2002).
- Marvel Comics
- Doctor Doom is known for more often than not referring to himself as "Doom" instead of "me" or "I".
- The Hulk uses illeism while saying his iconic "Hulk smash!" or variations thereof.
- 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.
- The cook Birdie from The Great Gildersleeve (1941–1958)
- Elmo from Sesame Street (1969–present), whose speech is intended to mimic the speech of preschoolers.
- Brian "Bomber" Busbridge, played by Pat Roach, in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983–2004)
- Hercule Poirot, in the contemporary television adaptation Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989–2013)
- Jimmy from the episode "The Jimmy" (1995) of Seinfeld (1989–98), whose usage leads to confusion about his identity. The usage rubs off on George Costanza, who exclaims "George is getting upset!"
- Zathras, a recurring alien character in the science fiction TV series Babylon 5 (1993–8)
- Oraetta Mayflower, a nurse who appears in the fourth season of Fargo.
- Joey Tribbiani, a character in the NBC sitcom Friends (1994–2004), refers to himself in third person in an episode.
- Bob, played by Saverio Guerra, in Becker (1998–2004)
- Stick-up man Omar Little from The Wire (2002–8). Examples include "Omar don't scare" and "Omar listening".
- Eddie Alvarez from The Unusuals (2009)
- In the iCarly episode "iRocked the Vote" (2009), Carly, Sam and Freddie make a music video for singer Wade Collins, who is bitter about how the gang's web show caused him to lose the competition singing show America Sings (based on American Idol). Wade exhibits arrogant and egotistical behavior frequently throughout the episode, including announcing "Wade Collins is leaving!" on his way out of Carly's apartment in one scene.
- Kenny Powers, from the television show Eastbound & Down (2009–13)
- George Remus, a recurring character played by Glenn Fleshler, in Boardwalk Empire (2010–2014)
- The Great and Powerful Trixie from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (2010–9) and My Little Pony: Equestria Girls (2013–9)
- Lavon Hayes, the mayor from Hart of Dixie (2011–5).
- Terry from Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013–present) often refers to himself, for example "Terry loves yogurt".
- Rhonda Lee, played by Leslie Easterbrook on "Laverne & Shirley" referred to herself in the third person many times.
- Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid (1984) sometimes refers to himself as "Miyagi".
- Magua from The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
- Dwight, from Fast & Furious (2009)
- Francesco Bernoulli, from Cars 2 (2011)
Manga and anime
- Sayuri Kurata from Kanon (1999–2000) speaks this way in order to separate herself from her past treatment of her little brother, which she regrets.
- Megumi Noda, aka Nodame, the title character from Nodame Cantabile (2001–9)
- Ryūgū Rena from Higurashi When They Cry (2006) refers to herself in the third person when speaking to others, but oddly reverts to the first person when speaking to herself.
- Asami Nakaoka from Highschool of the Dead (2010) habitually refers to herself in third person
- Rika Shiguma from Haganai (2010–2015)
- PallaPalla, from Sailor Moon
- Sesshomaru, from InuYasha
- Hana-chan, from Ojamajo Doremi, refers to herself in the third person, even saying "chan" along with her name.
- Candice from Pokémon. This is actually a translation error, as referring to oneself by name instead of pronoun is seen as "feminine" in the Japanese language, and is fairly common.
- Ed from Cowboy Bebop.
- Subaru Kujo, a gender-ambiguous character from Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love
- Alien Guts, from Ultra Seven
- Yuiko Hawatari from Loveless, until she is taught to use the first person.
- Misa Amane from Death Note occasionally calls herself "Misa-Misa". (omitted or reduced in some localizations)
- Mayuri Shiina from Steins;Gate sometimes refers to herself as "Mayushii".
- Rena Ryuguu from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, partly to stop people from using her real name (Reina).
- Juvia Lockser from Fairy Tail (Speaks in First Person in the English Dub)
- Asuza Shiratori, from Ranma, does this as a way to reinforce a "cute" stereotype.
- In Cartoon Network's Chowder, Chestnut refers to himself in person while naming everyday objects as other things.
- Ice Bear, one of three protagonists of We Bare Bears (2015–2019), speaks in third person, referring to himself with his own name.
- Tad Strange, in Gravity Falls (2012–2016), refers to himself in the third person in "Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back the Falls".
- Duffman, Gil, Groundskeeper Willie and Disco Stu from The Simpsons
- Scruffy the janitor in Futurama
- Foxxy Love of the animated series Drawn Together frequently refers to herself in the third person.
- George of George of the Jungle refers to himself in the third person due to his poor knowledge of English.
- Rolf from Ed, Edd n Eddy, perhaps due to a lack of English knowledge.
- Numbuh Five from Codename: Kids Next Door, an American animated children's cartoon, refers to herself in the third person on multiple occasions.
- Zeg, a character from Blaze and the Monster Machines
- Hesh, a character from Sealab 2021
- Cerebus the Aardvark
- The Flea from Mucha Lucha.
- I.R. Baboon, from I Am Weasel
- Grimlock in the various incarnations of Transformers
- Rath, a transformation of Ben Tennyson from the Ben 10: Alien Force and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien series often refers to himself in the third person, but not all the time.
- Jocktopus, from the children's television series, Fish Hooks
- Trixie, from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
- Waspinator, from Beast Wars, always refers to himself in the third person.
- Aku, the main villain of Cartoon Network's Samurai Jack animated series by Genndy Tartakovsky, frequently referred to himself in the third person.
- Robotboy refers to himself in the third person.
- Atchan from Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi consistently refers to himself in the third person.
- Coldygury from Noonbory and the Super Seven
- Alfe from The Problem Solverz
- The Boulder, an earthbender in Avatar: The Last Airbender
- Stitch, the main protagonist in Disney's Lilo & Stitch franchise, often refers to himself in the third person when speaking English. However, in his original film, he only referred to himself in the third-person twice in the same scene.
- Lightning in Total Drama
- Ibuki Mioda in the Japanese version of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
- Gonta Gokuhara in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
- Angie Yonaga and Tenko Chabashira in the Japanese version of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
- Kanna Kizuchi in Your Turn to Die
- Strong in Fallout 4
- 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.
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How was Johnny Cueto able to step up in such a pivotal Game 5? "Games like this are where you see Johnny Cueto -- the real Johnny Cueto." Yes, Cueto gave his interview through an interpreter, but if you listen closely, you'll hear the pitcher was speaking in the third person the whole time.
- Marchman, Tim; Fischer-Baum, Reuben (September 25, 2013). "Who Is The Most Pompous Sports Pundit? A Scientific Investigation". Deadspin.
Pronouns within quotes weren't counted unless the author was quoting himself, and we also counted when Gregg Easterbrook used "TMQ" or "your columnist" in the obvious place of a pronoun. ("TMQ's been on the record as saying…")
- Mewis, Joe (2013-10-03). "Read the best Zlatan Ibrahimovic quotes on the outspoken Swedish striker's birthday". The Mirror. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
There's big boasts, lashings of ego and plenty of third person references ahoy
- Hruby, Patrick (2012-08-18). "Lebron James definitely has Dan Gilbert all wrong". ESPN Page 2. ESPN Internet Ventures. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
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Here, for instance, is how pro basketball player LeBron James justified his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat: I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James and what LeBron James was going to do to make him happy.
- Taibbi, Matt (2010-03-02). "A Field Guide to Sports Egos". Men's Journal. Archived from the original on 2013-01-28. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
They actually have a word for what Rickey Henderson is: illeist.
- "Doug Robinson: Karl Malone is one of a kind". Deseret News. 2010-08-10. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
Maybe Malone didn't even know he was the one who was saying those things, because he tended to talk about himself as another being, in third person. Or maybe he was just schizophrenic, whatever.
- Amis, Martin (2004-10-01). "In search of Dieguito". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2018-02-22.
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- Shefter, Adam (2011-02-27). "Sources: Cam Newton thrown for loop". ESPN.com.
His comment drew such a reaction because some say his swagger teeters on the edge of pure arrogance. In roughly 12 minutes at the podium, he referred to himself in the third person three times. When asked if some mistake his confidence for cockiness, he said: "I'm not sure, but I'm a confident person, and it was instilled in myself at an early age to believe in myself".
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They all purport to be in love with Flav, a man who refers to himself in the third person and whose idea of fine dining is a dash to Red Lobster.
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The three girls milled around the kitchen, dodging Ramona, looking for midnight snacks. Bethany wished for the thousandth time that the housekeeper would not talk about herself in the third person. Too weird.
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Miyagi is a trickier case: at first it looks like Avildsen overplays the man's exoticness (cue that pan flute!), enforced by Kamen's questionable emphasis on the character's me-no-likey phonetic third-person English. ("Miyagi this, Miyagi that...")
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When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart. Before he dies, Magua will put his children under the knife, so the Grey Hair will know his seed is wiped out forever.
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Papa Dwight wants you to take off your shoes! Dwight loves feet!.
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He’s not just any formula car. He’s the star from Italy, Francesco Bernoulli. He is so full of himself—he’s an open-wheel car and in the car world, an open-wheel car is like those guys who barely button their shirts. He talks about himself in the third person. Voicing Francesco Bernoulli is John Turturro and he hit it out of the park. It’s one of the most entertaining characters we’ve ever created.
- "A Cracked Concerto". Kanon (2006-2007). Episode 14.
|url=(help) – details back story of Sayuri Kurata from Kanon
- Bowers, J. (2007-09-27). "Nodame Cantabile, Vols. 6-10 (Del Rey)". playbackstl.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-17. Retrieved 2012-12-19.
- Hanley, Andy (2012-03-15). "Manga Review: Highschool of the Dead Vol. 5". UK Anime Network. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
At the forefront of this is a young traffic cop with a penchant for referring to herself in the third-person named Asami Nakaoka, who tries to take control of the situation in the absence of her partner who has gone back to base to seek help.
- Moody, Allen (2013-11-05). "Haganai – Review". THEM Anime Reviews.
Like Tim, I didn't like most of the other characters, especially Rika, whose tics (speaking of herself in the third person, and imagining sexual situations in the damnedest places- for example, in mecha manga) kept making me shout "Make it STOP!!!!"