Use of illeism bor­ders on pre­ten­tious

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - BER­NADETTE KINLAW

I had to break out the big dic­tionary — Web­ster’s New In­ter­na­tional Dic­tionary/ Sec­ond Edi­tion/Unabridged — to find the word “illeism.”

This is the prac­tice of re­fer­ring to one­self in the third per­son.

The first ex­am­ple that comes to mind is how 1996 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bob Dole would speak about him­self like this: “Make no mis­take, Bob Dole is go­ing to be the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee.”

Dole was razzed about his pe­cu­liar habit quite a bit. He could have said “I” in­stead of “Bob Dole.” Peo­ple would have known what he meant.

An­other politi­cian spoke about him­self in the third per­son, though a bit pre­ma­turely, in 1962.

Richard Nixon, af­ter fail­ing to be­come Cal­i­for­nia governor, said, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any­more, be­cause, gentle­men, this is my last press con­fer­ence.”

Artist Sal­vador Dali, in a TV in­ter­view 31 years be­fore his death, had boldly stated: “Dali is im­mor­tal and will not die.”

Ath­letes such as Pele, Bo Jack­son and Rickey Hen­der­son use illeism.

Heck, the Sesame Street char­ac­ter Elmo uses it.

Other than in the case of Elmo, whom I con­sider to be an agent of good, illeism sounds pompous.

Well, maybe I can cut parents a break, too. Some­times they use the third per­son with their young chil­dren. “Give Mommy a kiss.”

I think parents do this be­cause kids of­ten don’t un­der­stand words such as “my,” “me,” “mine” and “you” un­til af­ter age 2. But could it be that Bob Dole, at 2 or so, would say, “Bob wants to help Mommy set the ta­ble”?

Writ­ing in the first per­son means us­ing “I” or “we.”

I could use some choco­late right now.

We will have to dis­cuss who will drive.

Monar­chs have been known to use “the royal we.” Queen Victoria sup­pos­edly would say, “We are not amused” when a joke

went too far. Maybe also when a joke didn’t go far enough.

Prime Min­is­ter Margaret Thatcher, who was not roy­alty, an­nounced when her grand­son was born in 1989, “We have be­come a grand­mother.”

Writ­ing in the sec­ond per­son means us­ing “you.”

“Y’all” or “You-all” is used around the South. I never got ac­cus­tomed to us­ing that.

I have heard that one only uses “y’all” when talk­ing about two or more peo­ple. But many peo­ple use it for just one per­son.


One reader asked me to

write about “pre-owned.” It’s a nicer way of say­ing “used.”

Ap­par­ently “pre-owned” has been around since the 1930s, and it’s in many dic­tio­nar­ies. But it seems that I’ve heard it more in re­cent years. And it does sound a lit­tle high­fa­lutin’.

A sim­i­lar, un­nerv­ing term for me is “pre-need.” This is what you call your fu­neral

when you pay for it be­fore you need it. It’s not when you have your fu­neral be­fore you die.

Sources: Web­ster’s New In­ter­na­tional Dic­tionary, Los An­ge­les Times, men­talfloss. com, Ed­u­ca­, gram­, gram­mar­pho­bia. com, Ox­ford English Dic­tionary Reach Ber­nadette at bkword­mon­

AP file photo

In­ter­viewed in 1958 by Mike Wal­lace (left), Sal­vador Dali said, illeis­ti­cally, “Dali is im­mor­tal and will not die.”

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