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Illeism 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 to the account, 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 also being 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 commonly done by Clive Cussler in his 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 psychotic episodes of actions that can't 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" (famously said by Johnny Five in Short Circuit), to suggest that these creatures are not truly self-aware, or else that they separate their consciousness from their physical form.
Illeism is also a device used to show idiocy, such as the character Mongo in Blazing Saddles, e.g. "Mongo like candy" and "Mongo only pawn in game of life." (Note also the lack of articles and verb inflection in both sentences.)
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 "the 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. This was particularly made notable during the United States presidential election, 1996 and lampooned broadly in popular media for years afterwards.
Similarly, illeism is used with an air of grandeur, to give the speaker lofty airs. Idiosyncratic and conceited people are known to either use or are lampooned as using illeism to puff themselves up or illustrate their egotism. The artist Salvador Dalí used illeism throughout his interview with Mike Wallace on The Mike Wallace Interview, punctuating it with "Dalí is immortal and will not die," although this may have been a reference to his oeuvre and artistic legacy rather than his actual self.
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." Conversely, 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.
In certain Eastern religions, like Hinduism or Buddhism, this is sometimes seen as a sign of enlightenment, since by doing so, an individual detaches his eternal self (atman) from the body related one (maya). Known illeists of that sort include Swami Ramdas, Ma Yoga Laxmi, Anandamayi Ma, and Mata Amritanandamayi. Jnana yoga actually encourages its practitioners to refer to themselves in the third person.
Illeism in common speech may be used as sarcasm, e.., when a person is being spoken about by other people present as if he weren't there. For example, Alice and Bob having a conversation about Carol: "Did you hear about Carol?" to which Carol interrupts with "Carol can hear you, you know."
Young children in Japan commonly refer to themselves by their own name (a habit probably picked from their elders who would normally refer to them by name. This is due to the normal Japanese way of speaking, where referring to another in the third person is considered more polite than using the Japanese words for "you", like Omae) though as the children grow older they normally switch over 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 presents 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
- Charles de Gaulle
- Bob Dole, during his United States presidential campaign in 1996.
- Herman Cain, during his United States presidential campaign in 2012.
- Paulo Maluf, Brazilian politician
- Anthony Garotinho, Brazilian politician
- Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India.
- Mikhail Gorbachev — Russian politician
- General Douglas MacArthur was known to refer to himself as 'MacArthur' in telling stories involving himself
- Roy Kwong Chun-yu, District Councilor and legislator of Hong Kong
- Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have used third person in their presidential campaigns in 2016.
- Zlatan Ibrahimović
- Rickey Henderson occasionally referred to himself as "Rickey".
- Karl Malone
- 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."
- LeBron James made several references to himself in the third person during The Decision program on ESPN in 2010.
- Billy Davies, soccer manager, currently of Nottingham Forest, formerly of Derby County and Preston North End.
- Gregg Easterbrook, sports journalist, refers to himself as "TMQ" or "your columnist" in his weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback columns.
- Cam Newton, NFL quarterback, referred to himself in third person during his press conference at the NFL Combine in 2011.
- Johnny Cueto After pitching Game 5 of the ALDS Johnny Cueto gave a post game interview in the third person.
- Flavor Flav
- Lila Morillo
- Gina Lollobrigida
- Mr. T, became one of his trademarks in the 1980s
- Salvador Dalí in his The Mike Wallace Interview interview with Mike Wallace on April 19, 1958.
- Norman Mailer's non-fiction work, The Fight, 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.
- Boday, a quirky female artist from Jack Chalker's Changewinds trilogy.
- Ramona, the housekeeper and mentor in Silver Ravenwolf's Witches Chillers series.
- 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."[quote without source]
- Jaqen H'ghar, an assassin of the Faceless Men in the fantasy suite A Song of Ice and Fire, consistently refers to himself ("a man") and sometimes the person he is addressing (i.e. "a girl") in third person.[quote without source]
- Gollum from The Lord of the Rings 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 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.
- The old man Nakata from Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore.
- The healer and wisewoman Magda Digby from the Owen Archer series by Candace Robb.
- Tula Rae from the novels Not Your Everyday Housewife and The Gift by Mary Campisi.
- Zhenya Leukonovich, an eccentric IRS agent from A Woods Cop Mystery series by Joseph Heywood.
- Mantis from Marvel Comics 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.
Television live action
- 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.
- Elmo from Sesame Street, whose speech is intended to mimic the speech of preschoolers.
- Jimmy from "The Jimmy" episode of Seinfeld, whose use leads to confusion about his identity. The usage rubs off on George Constanza, who exclaims "you're killing Independent George!" or "George is getting upset!"
- Stick up man Omar Little from The Wire. Examples include "Omar don't scare." and "Omar listening."
- Bob, played by Saverio Guerra, in Becker
- Hercule Poirot, in the contemporary television adaptation Agatha Christie's Poirot
- Kenny Powers, from the television show Eastbound & Down
- Lavon Hayes, the mayor from Hart of Dixie.
- Eddie Alvarez from The Unusuals
- Brian "Bomber" Busbridge, played by Pat Roach, in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
- George Remus, a recurring character played by Glenn Fleshler, in Boardwalk Empire
- Mongo from the Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles
- Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid sometimes refers to himself as "Miyagi".
- Magua from The Last of the Mohicans.
- Francesco Bernoulli, from Cars 2
Manga and anime
- Megumi Noda, aka Nodame, the title character from Nodame Cantabile:
- Sayuri Kurata from Kanon speaks this way in order to separate herself from her past treatment of her little brother, which she regrets.
- Asami Nakaoka from Highschool of the Dead habitually refers to herself in third person;
- Rika Shiguma from Haganai
- Crazy Barks from Drawn to Life and its DS sequel, Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter, refers to himself in third person. In the second game, a similar character called Crazy Diggs also shares this habit.
- 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.
- "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.
- "Rahul Gandhi, blurring lines between filmi and real politicians". Firstpost. 2014-01-28. Retrieved 2014-08-06.
- Raskin, Robert (1988). "Narcissism and the Use of Personal Pronouns". Journal of Personality. 56 (2): 393–404. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1988.tb00892.x.
- "Swami Ramdas". bhagavan-ramana.org. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
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- ISBN 0199368635
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- More explanation given in Japanese pronouns
- Alexander, Catherine M. S., ed. (2003). The Cambridge Shakespeare Library: Shakespeare's times, texts, and stages. Cambridge University Press. p. 101. ISBN 9780521808002.
- See the Wikisource of the book: s:The Education of Henry Adams
- Glass, Loren Daniel (2004). Authors Inc: Literary Celebrity in the Modern United States, 1880-1980. NYU Press. p. 29. ISBN 9780814731604.
- "France: Third Person Singular". Time Magazine. 1970-10-19. Retrieved 2009-01-22.(subscription required)
- Harris, Scott (1996-03-10). "Bob Dole Needs to Put the 'I' in Identity". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
- Alberts, Sheldon (9 November 2011), There’s no ‘you’ in Herman Cain, The National Post
- "Acervo Digital VEJA – Digital Pages". abril.com.br. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
- "Hang me if I have committed any crime, but no apology, Narendra Modi says – The Times of India". Timesofindia.indiatimes.com. 2014-04-16. Retrieved 2014-08-06.
- "Why do some people refer to themselves in the third person?". BBC News. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
- Eisenhower, Dwight (1967). at ease. DoubleDay & Company. p. 214.
- "泛民5名單報名參選超區議席". now.com. 2016-07-17. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
- Hattenstone, Simon (2003-06-30). "And God created Pele". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
- Fink, Jesse (2011-11-13). "Pelé's mouth should get a straight red". The Sunday Guardian. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
- 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
- Taibbi, Matt (2010-03-02). "A Field Guide to Sports Egos". Men's Journal. 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.
- e. g. here
- Hruby, Patrick (2012-08-18). "Lebron James definitely has Dan Gilbert all wrong". ESPN Page 2. ESPN Internet Ventures. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
- Nordquist, Richard (2012-09-24). "A Few More Oddities: Illeism, Semantic Satiation, and Garden-Path Sentences". About.com guide. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
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.
- "Billy Davies on new job at Nottingham Forest – Nottingham Post". Nottingham Post. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
- 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 Greggg Easterbrook used "TMQ" or "your columnist" in the obvious place of a pronoun. ("TMQ's been on the record as saying ...")
- 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."
- Landers, Chris (2016-02-11). "Johnny Cueto was pretty impressed with Johnny Cueto's Game 5 gem in this third-person interview". mlb.com.
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.
- Wiltz, Teresa (2006-11-02). "Love Him, Or Leave Him?". Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
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.
- "Queremos tanto a Lila". Revistamarcapasos.com. 1999-02-22. Retrieved 2013-09-18.
- "The Deseret News – Google News Archive Search". google.com. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
- Canales, Luis. Imperial Gina.
- IGN Staff (October 10, 2006). "Mr. T Reveals Why He Pities Fools". Retrieved 12 March 2013.
- Dali, Salvador (April 19, 1958). "Salvador Dali – The Mike Wallace interview – Transcript". The Mike Wallace Interview (video). Interview with Mike Wallace. Retrieved 2017-03-31 – via Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.
- Norman Mailer (1997-09-30). The Fight. Vintage. ISBN 0-375-70038-2.
- When the Changewinds Blow.
- RavenWolf, Silver (2001). Witches' Key to Terror. Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 25. ISBN 9780738700496.
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."
- De Sousa Correa, Delia (2000). The Nineteenth-century Novel: Realisms. Psychology Press. p. 162.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1997). The Hobbit (Revised ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 72. ISBN 0-345-33968-1.
- ""You're Not the Same Kind of Human Being": The Evolution of Pity to Horror in Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon – Cline – Disability Studies Quarterly". dsq-sds.org. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
- Mussari, Mark (2011). Haruki Murakami. Marshall Cavendish. p. 77. ISBN 9780761441243. Retrieved 2017-01-07.
- Guardians of the Galaxy: 15 Things You Never Knew About Mantis
- Fowler, Matt (2009-07-02). "Line-O-Rama: The Rock Says". IGN. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
- "Why does Elmo refer to himself in the third person? Won't this teach kids improper English?". Frequently Asked Questions. Sesame Workshop.
- Kettle, James (2011-05-28). "The best of Seinfeld". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
- Mike Sager (10 June 2015). "Omar Little on 'The Wire' – Why Omar Is the Best Character on 'The Wire'". Esquire. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
- Sullivan, Jonathan (2010-01-22). "DVD Review: Becker – The Third Season". Blogcritics.
- Stevens, Christopher (2013-06-09). "We're lucky David Suchet loves Poirot more than Agatha ever did". Daily Mail.
Poirot was as riotously egotistical as ever. Suchet’s genius is that he can deliver everything Christie found so exasperating, without becoming a caricature — he minces, he trots, he fusses, he talks endlessly of himself in the third person.
- Alston, Joshua (2010-10-14). "'Eastbound & Down': The Ugliest American". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2013-09-18.
- Wightman, Catriona (2011-09-27). "'Hart of Dixie': First impressions – TV Blog". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2013-09-18.
- Hinckley, David (2009-04-07). "ABC's 'The Unusuals' odd squad mixes drama and humor". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2013-09-18.
- "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet". TV Cream. Retrieved 2013-09-18.
- Gilmore, Dave (October 22, 2012). "'Boardwalk Empire' recap, 'Ging Gang Goolie'". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2013-09-18.
- Simpson, Craig (June 17, 2009). "Summer of '84—Waxing on Nostalgia: The Karate Kid". Slant Magazine.
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...")
- "Quotes for Magua (Character)". IMDB. 2014-08-01.
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.
- "Cars 2 – An interview with director John Lasseter". Sound and Picture Online. 2011-06-20.
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.
- Bowers, J. (2007-09-27). "Nodame Cantabile, Vols. 6-10 (Del Rey)". playbackstl.com. Retrieved 2012-12-19.
- "A Cracked Concerto". Kanon (2006-2007). Episode 14. – details back story of Sayuri Kurata from Kanon
- 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!!!!"
- 5th Cell. Drawn to Life. Nintendo DS. THQ.
Crazy Barks: BARKSISGLADTHESHADOWISGONE!