Girish Mahajan (Editor)


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Illeism /ˈɪli.ɪzəm/ (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

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 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 his oeuvre and artistic legacy 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." 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.

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.
  • Sports

  • Pelé
  • Zlatan Ibrahimović
  • Rickey Henderson occasionally referred to himself as "Rickey".
  • Karl Malone
  • 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.
  • Entertainment

  • Flavor Flav
  • Lila Morillo
  • Gina Lollobrigida
  • Mr. T, became one of his trademarks in the 1980s
  • Other

  • 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.
  • Books

  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Film

  • 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
  • Video games

  • 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.
  • References

    Illeism Wikipedia