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Title: Illeism  
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Subject: Elmo, Long Island Rail Road massacre, Speech, Carlos Moreno de Caro, Project A-ko
Collection: Literary Techniques, Speech
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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.

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.


  • In literature 1
  • In everyday speech 2
  • Notable uses 3
    • Real people 3.1
      • Politics 3.1.1
      • Sports 3.1.2
      • Entertainment 3.1.3
      • Other 3.1.4
    • Fictional characters 3.2
      • Literature 3.2.1
      • Television live-action 3.2.2
      • Film 3.2.3
      • Manga and anime 3.2.4
      • Cartoons 3.2.5
      • Video games 3.2.6
  • See also 4
  • References 5

In literature

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. (There are also novels in which illeism may have been committed, but are not explicit, such the Traveller in H. G. Wells' The Time Machine, the identity of whom is often presumed to be Wells himself, as portrayed in the 1979 film Time After Time.)

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.[1]

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 masterslave 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.[2] 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 egoism. 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 the legacy of his art rather than his actual self. The wrestler The Rock was notorious for this, mainly to enhance his persona to a superhuman level. 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] Conversely, third-person self referral can be associated with self-irony and not taking oneself too seriously (since the excessive use of preposition "I" is a common 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,[4] Ma Yoga Laxmi,[5] Anandamayi Ma,[6] and Mata Amritanandamayi.[7] Jnana yoga actually encourages its practitioners to refer to themselves in the third person.[8]

An increasingly common use of illeism in common speech is as sarcasm, used 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[9]) 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.

Notable uses

Real people





Fictional characters


  • D. Faustus, from Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragicall History of D. Faustus".
  • Ramona, from Silver Ravenwolf's "Witches Chillers" series.
  • Boday, a quirky female artist from Jack Chalker's "Changewinds" trilogy.[37]
  • Tula Rae, from Not Your Everyday Housewife by Mary Campisi.
  • 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.[38]
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.[39]
  • House-elves in the Harry Potter books, particularly Dobby, who also usually refers to Harry in the third person when speaking to him.
  • Patrick Bateman, in American Psycho refers to himself in the third person near the end of the novel, as his depersonalization is at its peak.

Television live-action


Manga and anime


  • In Cartoon Network's "Chowder", Chestnut refers to himself in person while naming everyday objects as other things.
  • Ice Bear, in We Bare Bears, speaks in third person, referring to himself with his own name.

Video games

See also


  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. ^ "When the president is ready to deploy, Bob Dole is ready to lead the fight on the Senate Floor". Bob Dole speaking about SDI at the NCPAC convention, 1987.
  3. ^ "Rahul Gandhi, blurring lines between filmi and real politicians". Firstpost. 2014-01-28. Retrieved 2014-08-06. 
  4. ^ "Swami Ramdas". Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  5. ^ "Osho World Online Magazine :: February 2013". Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  6. ^ "isbn:0199368635 - Google". Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  7. ^ " The Rediff Interview/Mata Amritanandmayi". Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  8. ^ "Hinduism-The Religious Life". Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  9. ^ More explanation given in Japanese pronouns
  10. ^ Alexander, Catherine M. S., ed. (2003). The Cambridge Shakespeare Library: Shakespeare's times, texts, and stages. Cambridge University Press. p. 101.  
  11. ^ See the Wikisource of the book: s:The Education of Henry Adams
  12. ^ Glass, Loren Daniel (2004). Authors Inc: Literary Celebrity in the Modern United States, 1880-1980. NYU Press. p. 29.  
  13. ^ "France: Third Person Singular". Time Magazine. 1970-10-19. Retrieved 2009-01-22. (subscription required)
  14. ^ Harris, Scott (1996-03-10). "Bob Dole Needs to Put the 'I' in Identity". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-12-07. 
  15. ^ Alberts, Sheldon (9 November 2011), There’s no ‘you’ in Herman Cain, The National Post 
  16. ^ a b "Acervo Digital VEJA - Digital Pages". Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  17. ^ "Hang me if I have committed any crime, but no apology, Narendra Modi says - The Times of India". 2014-04-16. Retrieved 2014-08-06. 
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  19. ^ Hattenstone, Simon (2003-06-30). "And God created Pele". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  20. ^ Fink, Jesse (2011-11-13). "Pelé’s mouth should get a straight red". The Sunday Guardian. Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
  21. ^  
  22. ^ "Doug Robinson: Karl Malone is one of a kind".  
  23. ^ 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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  26. ^ Marchman, Tim; Fischer-Baum, Reuben (September 25, 2013). "Who Is The Most Pompous Sports Pundit? A Scientific Investigation".  
  27. ^ Shefter, Adam (2011-02-27). "Sources: Cam Newton thrown for loop". 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." 
  28. ^ "Patrice Evra vows to fight for his place". 'I will keep doing fighting too. It is too easy for people to say that now we have bought another left-back. Patrice Evra has always fought for his place. 
  29. ^ 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. 
  30. ^ "Queremos tanto a Lila". 1999-02-22. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  31. ^ "The Deseret News - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  32. ^ Canales, Luis. Imperial Gina. 
  33. ^ IGN Staff (October 10, 2006). "Mr. T Reveals Why He Pities Fools". Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  34. ^ Ellen E Jones (14 October 2014). "The Apprentice, BBC1, TV review: 'Self-aggrandising nicompoops' return". The Independent. Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  35. ^ "Salvador Dali - The Mike Wallace interview - transcript".  
  36. ^ Norman Mailer (1997-09-30). The Fight. Vintage.  
  37. ^ When the Changewinds Blow. 
  38. ^ De Sousa Correa, Delia (2000). The Nineteenth-century Novel: Realisms. Psychology Press. p. 162. 
  39. ^ 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""". Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  40. ^ Fowler, Matt (2009-07-02). "Line-O-Rama: The Rock Says". IGN. Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
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  42. ^ Kettle, James (2011-05-28). "The best of Seinfeld". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-12-07. 
  43. ^ Sullivan, Jonathan (2010-01-22). "DVD Review: Becker – The Third Season".  
  44. ^ 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. 
  45. ^ Alston, Joshua (2010-10-14). Eastbound & Down': The Ugliest American"'".  
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  47. ^ Hinckley, David (2009-04-07). "ABC's 'The Unusuals' odd squad mixes drama and humor".  
  48. ^ "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet".  
  49. ^ Gilmore, Dave (October 22, 2012). "'Boardwalk Empire' recap, 'Ging Gang Goolie'".  
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  52. ^ "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. 
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  56. ^ 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!!!!" 
  57. ^ 5th Cell. Drawn to Life. Nintendo DS. THQ. Crazy Barks: BARKSISGLADTHESHADOWISGONE! 
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