Illeism (Self-Talk)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Donald Trump

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In English grammar, illeism is the act of referring to oneself (often habitually) in the third person. Also called self-talk.

Someone who practices illeism is (among other things) an illeist. Adjective: illeistic.

The practice of referring to oneself in the first-person plural as we is called nosism (also known as the "royal we" or the "editorial we").




From the Latin, "that man"

Examples and Observations

  • "I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, you know. This aggression will not stand, man."(Jeff Bridges as the Dude in The Big Lebowski, 1998)
  • "Here's one thing people don't know about Herman Cain: I'm in it to win it. ... ​"I don’t regret that choice of words because when people believe Herman Cain and his message, they know that it is sincere." (Republican presidential contender Herman Cain in an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Nov. 7, 2011)
  • "You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." (Richard M. Nixon, November 7, 1962)
  • "Women are an enigma as far as Grimes is concerned."(Captain Grimes in Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, 1928)
  • "No, madman! Whatever you may see there—it is not fear! Fear is for lesser men. Never for Doom!"(Doctor Victor Von Doom, Super Villain Team-Up #12)
  • "Jimmy's gonna get you, Kramer! Hands off Jimmy! Don't touch Jimmy!"(Jimmy, "The Jimmy." Seinfeld, 1995)

Donald Trump on Donald Trump—and Martin Amis on Martin Amis

"If we agree that referring to yourself in the third person is not usually a sign of psychological well-being, how do we assess the following?

Donald Trump builds buildings.
Donald Trump develops magnificent golf courses.
Donald Trump makes investments that create jobs.
And Donald Trump creates jobs for legal immigrants and all Americans.

"Well, Martin Amis thinks, for a start, that the author of Crippled America [Donald Trump, 2015] is a lot crazier than the author of The Art of the Deal [Donald Trump, 1987]."

"Martin Amis is aware that Crippled America was published on November 3, 2015, at which point only a couple of blatant no-hopers had quit that crowded field."

"Martin Amis is sure that Crippled America, if updated by Trump the nominee, would be dramatically crazier."

"And Martin Amis concludes that after a couple of days of pomp and circumstance in the White House, Trump’s brain would be nothing more than a bog of testosterone."

(Martin Amis, "Don the Realtor: The Rise of Trump." Harper's, August 2016)

Illeistic Athletes

"When Andrew Bogut called the NBA draft a great day in 'the life of Andrew Bogut, the family of Andrew Bogut,' the top pick of the Milwaukee Bucks became yet another prominent person fond of the third-person voice, whose strange fraternity of admirers has long included Miss Manners, Bob Dole and Kermit the Frog. ...

"[T]he cult of third person-ality is far and away most prevalent in professional sports, in which every other athlete now refers to himself as if he were somebody else. This trend annually sinks to a new sub-basement of silliness at the NBA draft, where even those put off by the third-person voice seem obliged to try it on, along with the team baseball cap. Said Sean May, before being selected by the Bobcats, 'When you look at Sean May—and I don't mean to talk in the third person—you know what you're getting.' ...

"Wade Boggs once said to a television interviewer, in attempting to explain his predilection for the third person, 'My father always told me not to be a braggart, not to say I, I, I.' (To which one can only say i-yi-yi.)" (Steve Rushin, "There Is No 'I' in Steve." Sports Illustrated, July 11, 2005)

"Ozzie Smith is not a uniquely talented person. In fact, he is no different than any man, woman, boy, or girl in this audience today." (Ozzie Smith, on his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002)

"I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James and what LeBron James was going to do to make him happy." (Basketball player LeBron James, announcing that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat, July 8, 2010)

Illeism in Shakespeare

"Caesar shall forth; the things that threatened me

Ne'er looked but on my back. When they shall see

The face of Caesar, they are vanished."

(Caesar in Act Two, scene 2 of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare)


"And what so poor a man as Hamlet is

May do't express his love and friending to you,

God willing, shall not lack."

(Hamlet in Act One, scene 5 of Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

"Shakespeare uses similar illeism when Othello says, 'Man but a Rush against Othello's brest, | And he retires. Where should Othello go?' (Othello, Vii, 268–9), in which the distanced self is made the subject of a despairing rhetorical question. It contrasts with the egoistical confidence of Caesar's illeism is such declarations as 'Caesar shall forth,' and 'Danger knowes full well | that Caesar is more dangerous than he' (Julius Caesar, IIii, 44-5), though the self thus fashioned proves brittle through its over-confidence." (Paul Hammond, The Strangeness of Tragedy. Oxford University Press, 2009)

"[I]t is the public style of the play [Julius Caesar] that makes its Rome a republic. The major scenes take the form of public debates. Even in private, characters speak formally, in lofty abstractions, and refer to themselves in the third person ('illeism'), as though they are spectators and audience of themselves as public figures." (Coppélia Kahn, "Shakespeare's Classical Tragedies." The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Tragedy, ed. by Claire McEachern. Cambridge University Press, 2002)

The Lighter Side of Illeism: Bob Dole on Bob Dole

"I am very proud to be from Russell, Kansas, population 5,500. My dad went to work every day for 42 years and proud of it, and my mother sold Singer sewing machines to try to make ends meet. Six of us grew up living in a basement apartment. That was Bob Dole's early life, and I'm proud of it." (Senator Bob Dole, March 14, 1996)

Norm MacDonald: Aw, come on now, Senator, it's a great impression. Listen to this: "Come November 5th, a lot of people are going to be surprised by Bob Dole, because Bob Dole's gonna win this election!"

Bob Dole: Doesn't sound a thing like me. First of all, I don't run around saying "Bob Dole does this" and "Bob Dole does that." That's not something Bob Dole does. It's not something Bob Dole has ever done, and it's not something Bob Dole will ever do!"

(Saturday Night Live, Nov. 16, 1996)

The Lighter Side of Illeism: Chris Hoy on Chris Hoy

“'In the last 24 hours, everyone has been offering an opinion on Chris Hoy. But what does Chris Hoy think of Chris Hoy?'

“'Chris Hoy thinks that the day Chris Hoy refers to Chris Hoy in the third person is the day Chris Hoy disappears up his own arse.'

"And there, in 26 gloriously instructive words, is why Sir Chris Hoy is Britain’s greatest-ever Olympian."

(Scott Murray, "Chris Hoy's Crazy Few Days in 2008." The Guardian [UK], July 11. 2012)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Illeism (Self-Talk)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Illeism (Self-Talk). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Illeism (Self-Talk)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).