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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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Illeism is also a device 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" (Note also the lack of articles and verb inflection in both sentences)[citation needed]; 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 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.[citation needed] 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 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] 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 ego centrism[4]), 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,[5] Ma Yoga Laxmi,[6] Anandamayi Ma,[7] and Mata Amritanandamayi.[8] Jnana yoga actually encourages its practitioners to refer to themselves in the third person.[9]

Young children in Japan commonly refer to themselves by their own name (a habit probably picked up from their elders who would normally refer to them by name[citation needed] ). This is due to the normal Japanese way of speaking, in which referring to another in the third person is considered more polite than using the Japanese words for "you", like Omae. More explanation given in Japanese pronouns, 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.[citation needed]

Notable illeists

Real people





  • Salvador Dalí in his The Mike Wallace Interview interview with Mike Wallace on April 19, 1958.[38]
  • 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.[39]
  • Jesus Christ is found referring to Himself as "Jesus" (as well as the "Son of Man"), as in John 17:1–3.[40]
  • Miss Cordelia Loughlin the up and coming Scottish Opera star, is said to have had jokingly replied to her fan-mail under the alias "Judy"; supposedly her "assistant" and fellow Ayrshire native.

Fictional characters



  • 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.[50]



Manga and anime

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 the Strategic Defense Initiative at the NCPAC convention, 1987.
  3. ^ "Rahul Gandhi, blurring lines between filmi and real politicians". Firstpost. 2014-01-28. Retrieved 2014-08-06.
  4. ^ 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. PMID 3404383.
  5. ^ "Swami Ramdas". Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  6. ^ "Osho World Online Magazine :: February 2013". Retrieved 2013-09-18.
  7. ^ Aymard, Orianne (2014-05-01). When a Goddess Dies: Worshipping Ma Anandamayi after Her Death. ISBN 978-0199368631.
  8. ^ " The Rediff Interview/Mata Amritanandmayi". Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  9. ^ "Hinduism-The Religious Life". Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  10. ^ Alexander, Catherine M. S., ed. (2003). The Cambridge Shakespeare Library: Shakespeare's times, texts, and stages. Cambridge University Press. p. 101. ISBN 9780521808002.
  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. ISBN 9780814731604.
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  15. ^ Harris, Scott (1996-03-10). "Bob Dole Needs to Put the 'I' in Identity". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  16. ^ Alberts, Sheldon (9 November 2011), There's no 'you' in Herman Cain, The National Post
  17. ^ a b "Acervo Digital VEJA – Digital Pages". Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  18. ^ "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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  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ "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.
  27. ^ e. g. here
  28. ^ Hruby, Patrick (2012-08-18). "Lebron James definitely has Dan Gilbert all wrong". ESPN Page 2. ESPN Internet Ventures. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  29. ^ Nordquist, Richard (2012-09-24). "A Few More Oddities: Illeism, Semantic Satiation, and Garden-Path Sentences". 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.
  30. ^ 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 ...")
  31. ^ 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".
  32. ^ Landers, Chris (2016-02-11). "Johnny Cueto was pretty impressed with Johnny Cueto's Game 5 gem in this third-person interview". 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.
  33. ^ 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.
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  37. ^ IGN Staff (October 10, 2006). "Mr. T Reveals Why He Pities Fools". Retrieved 12 March 2013.
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