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Say what you will about Herman Cain’s press conference yesterday, it was one of the all time highpoints for the incorrect public use of the third person. Behold, this gem:

Well, I happen to think where it’s coming from is that some people don’t want to see Herman Cain get the Republican nomination, and some people don’t want Herman Cain to become president of the United States of America.

And this:

I can’t tell you what their motivation is, other than it’s to stop Herman Cain.

Ask Herman Cain about Herman Cain, and Herman Cain will tell you all about Herman Cain. Is there a word for this?

Weirdly, yes. That word is illeism. The act of referring to oneself (often habitually) in the third person.

According to Wikipedia, illeism has a variety of uses including self-promotion, to give the speaker lofty airs, to illustrate the feeling of being outside one’s body and watching things happen, as a form of sarcasm or as a way to show dim wittedness, such as when the Mongo in Blazing Saddles declares: “Mongo only pawn in game of life.”
So why does someone become an illeist? According to Yahoo answers:

Because when you do that it makes you feel like you’re not so alone. It’s a psychological way of making yourself feel like there’s someone with you, even if it is only yourself. He was probably picked on as a child, that usually being the cause for this behavior. On the other hand if he’s doing this in a joking fashion, its just that, a joke.

Aha! it could be a joke. That backs up Rachel’s Herman Cain is a Performance Artist theory.

Mr. Cain is far from alone–or first– on this. Other famous moments in illeism include:

Richard Nixon “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

The Dude (The Big Lebowski) “I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, you know. This aggression will not stand, man.”

LeBron James— “I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James and what LeBron James was going to do to make him happy.”

Bob Dole “If you had to leave your children with Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, I think you’d probably leave them with Bob Dole. …”

Elmo— “Lala-lala lala-lala Elmo’s song. Lala-lala lala-lala Elmo’s song. Me write the music, me write the words, that’s Elmo’s song.”

Deion Sanders— “Deion Sanders is only going to play when God tells Deion Sanders it’s time to play.”

The Incredible Hulk— ”Hulk Smash!”

Charles De Gaulle— “The French want to get rid of de Gaulle today but you will see the growth of the myth 30 years from now.”

Pele— “I think of Pele as a gift of God. We have billions of billions of people in the world, and we have one Beethoven, one Bach, one Michelangelo, one Pele. That is the gift of God.”

Dobby the house-elf— “Dobby is a free house-elf and he can obey anyone he likes and Dobby will do whatever Harry Potter wants him to do!”

British cycling champion Chris Hoy— ”Chris Hoy thinks that the day Chris Hoy refers to Chris Hoy in the third person is the day that Chris Hoy disappears up his own arse.”

If you have more examples of illeism, please share in the comments below. Kent Jones thanks you for reading this Kent Jones post, written by Kent Jones.

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