Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why do some people refer to themselves in the third person?” Good question. (OK, it is a bit “royal’ but it beats answering inquiries about odd intimate acts. Seriously? We thought “The Nixon” was just a former president, mmmkay?)
In case you’ve not noticed, both Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the 73-year-old bidding for the Democratic nomination refer to themselves in the third person.
(Haven’t you noticed? Even” your rascally writer” does it. In “his” case it’s a journalism trick to inject a little bit of “himself” into the story and still technically have the piece remain otherwise objective.)
In the case of politicians though it’s nothing new though as our guest speaker Vanessa Barford contributor to the BBC online confirms. She states: “It’s an eccentric habit . . . (Trump is) just the latest in a long line of politicians to talk this way.”
In fact, royalty both real and fictional have this same habit. They all speak like Kanye West and Gollum from Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit.
The act of referring to oneself in the third person is called illeism. It originates from “ille” which is Latin for “he”. Barford agrees that “history provides many examples, from Julius Caesar – who wrote a history of his Gallic campaigns as if he were an objective observer rather than a protagonist – to Charles de Gaulle and Richard Nixon, basketball megastar Le Bron James and Mikhail Gorbachev. “
She adds that “toddlers are often illeists, before they fully grasp the use of ‘I’ and ‘me’, so fictional characters portrayed as young children or simple-minded adults sometimes speak like this.” Elmo from Sesame Street or Jimmy from Seinfeld are good examples.
Kim Schneiderman, a psychotherapist and author of Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life, states that while thinking of oneself in the third person is normal she adds what is “less normal is going from thinking to talking about yourself in the third person.”
She says that Trump and Sanders “are both very successful, confident individuals . . . Their confidence might explain why they would be comfortable outwardly referring to themselves this way. Also, people in the public eye are performers and thus develop personas. If Trump and Sanders speak about themselves in the third person, perhaps they are actually speaking about their personas.”
Trump’s also a brand. She notes: “This is a man who has his picture up on his walls and his name plastered on the tallest buildings in Manhattan. Trump talking about himself in the third person reflects his perception of himself as being a larger-than-life character in the world stage. Which, aside from the fact that he has an inflated ego, he happens to be.”
Why do some people refer to themselves in the third person? Now you know.
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