11 Famous Illeists

An illeist is someone who refers to himself in the third person, as Richard Nixon famously did when, after losing the bid for the California governorship in 1962, he said, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." Today, Nixon's sound bite is remembered as much for his use of the third person as for its inaccuracy. From other politicians and a Sesame Street staple, to athletes and a character on Seinfeld, here's a closer look at 11 famous illeists.

1. Bob Dole

After losing the New Hampshire primary to Pat Buchanan during the 1996 presidential election campaign, Bob Dole announced, "You're going to see the real Bob Dole out there from now on." The real Bob Dole regularly referred to himself in the third person, a habit that made him the target of ridicule in a series of skits on Saturday Night Live. After being mocked for such bizarre remarks as "If you had to leave your children with Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, I think you'd probably leave them with Bob Dole," Dole hired a speech coach to reform his illeist ways. While it didn't ultimately turn the election in his favor, the tactic improved Dole's oratory skills. In October 1996, USA Today reported, "He has already largely rid his standard campaign speech of the verbal tic that's prompted the most jokes about his style: third-person references to himself as "˜Bob Dole.' Friday in Dewey Beach, Del., the Kansas senator referred to himself as "˜Bob Dole' only once and used the pronoun "˜I' 59 times."

2. Bo Jackson

 Athletes, such as two-sport star Bo Jackson, seem to be especially prone to illeism. The late Dick Schaap, who co-authored Bo Jackson's biography, Bo Knows Bo, traced the origins of illeism in professional sports to the 1930s, when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean referred to himself as "Ol' Diz." Jackson began referring to himself in the third person at a young age, in part because of a well-documented stutter that made it difficult for him to say "I." When Jackson burst onto the scene as a home run-hitting outfielder for the Kansas City Royals and a touchdown-scoring running back for the Los Angeles Raiders, he parlayed his unusual habit into a series of popular "Bo Knows Bo" Nike commercials.

3. Jimmy

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jimmy, played by Anthony Starke, constantly refers to himself in the third person. Elaine agrees to a date with Jimmy, mistaking his interest in her ("You're just Jimmy's type") for that of another man at the gym.

4. Rickey Henderson

Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson took the art of base stealing and illeism to another level. As Henderson himself might tell you, among professional athletes, Rickey is the greatest illeist of all time. One of the many famous Rickey-isms was the voicemail message he left for Padres general manager Kevin Towers. "Kevin, this is Rickey, calling on behalf of Rickey," Henderson said. "Rickey wants to play baseball." Henderson once climbed aboard the Padres team bus and headed toward the back, when someone said, "You have tenure, sit wherever you want." Rickey responded: "Ten years? Rickey's been playing at least 16, 17 years."

5. Elmo

Some parents undoubtedly cringe at the sound of the furry red Sesame Street character telling children, "Elmo loves you!" The concern that Elmo's tickle-me-illeist tendencies might teach children improper English is addressed on the FAQ page of sesameworkshop.org. "Elmo mimics the behavior of many preschoolers," according to the Web site. "Like 3-year-olds, he doesn't always have the skills or knowledge to speak proper English. Cast members and many of the other Muppets, however, do demonstrate proper usage of the English language." The Language Log explored this very issue in 2008 and concluded, "Toddler illeism is a temporary solution to the complex problem of self-reference, and keeping your kid away from Elmo won't prevent it."

6. Julius Caesar

Caesar, who wrote about himself in the third person in his accounts of his conquests in The Gallic Wars, was one of the first known illeists. He had pretty much earned the right to refer to himself however he pleased. Cicero, for one, was a big fan of Caesar's style. "The Gallic War is splendid," he wrote. "It is bare, straight and handsome, stripped of rhetorical ornament like an athlete of his clothes." Caesar's regular use of the third person is parodied in the Asterix comic books.

7. Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was an odd bird. During an interview with Mike Wallace in 1958, Dali referred to himself in the third person, at one point stating, "Dali is immortal and will not die." In his memoirs, Dali wrote about most of his life in the first person, but he would occasionally use the third person. On the subject of his birth, for instance, he wrote, "Look! Salvador Dali is born."

8. Pele

 Soccer legend Pele, who was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, refers to himself in the third person because he thinks of himself as two distinct people. "Yes, of course I think of Pele as a different person," he told Sports Illustrated in 1994. "When I met Pele, I was seven or eight. Pele doesn't have a nation, race, religion or color. People all over the world love Pele. Edson is a man like other men."

In a 2003 interview with The Guardian, Pele echoed the same beliefs. "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."

9. Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle thought very highly of himself, as evidenced by his repeated use of the third person in his memoirs. According to a 1970 review of the first volume in Time, "the book is De Gaulle at his infuriating best. It overflows with the lofty certitude and self-confidence of a man who, without embarrassment, can refer to himself repeatedly in the third person." Describing the assassination attempt on him in August 1962, De Gaulle writes: "Of the 150-odd bullets aimed at us, 14 strike our vehicle. Yet—none of us is hit. May De Gaulle therefore go on pursuing his road and his vocation!"

10. The Rock

Before he got into movies, Dwayne Johnson struck fear into the hearts of his fellow wrestlers and elementary school English teachers alike with his signature phrase: "Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?"

11. Geraldo Rivera

While Geraldo Rivera doesn't regularly refer to himself in the third person, one example of a time when he did is ridiculous enough to land him on this list. In 2001, responding to criticism that he had fabricated a story as part of his coverage of the war in Afghanistan, Rivera said, "It's time to stop bashing Geraldo. If you want to knife me in the back after all the courage I've displayed and serious reporting I've done, I've got no patience with this (expletive)."

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

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11 Fascinating Facts About Mark Twain

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mark Twain is widely considered the author of the first great American novel—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but his rollicking tales aren’t the only legacy he left behind. His poignant quotes and witticisms have been told and retold (sometimes erroneously) over the last century and a half, and his volume of work speaks for itself. Over the course of his legendary career, Twain—real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens—wrote more than a dozen novels plus countless short stories and essays and still found time to invent new products, hang out with famous scientists, and look after a house full of cats.

1. Mark Twain is a nautical reference.

Like many of history’s literary greats, Mark Twain (né Samuel Langhorne Clemens) decided to assume an alias early on in his writing career. He tried out a few different names—Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Sergeant Fathom, and, more plainly, Josh—before settling on Mark Twain, which means two fathoms (12 feet) deep in boating jargon. He got the idea while working as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River—a job he held for four years until the Civil War broke out in 1861, putting a halt to commerce. (However, another popular theory holds that he earned the nickname in a bar. According to reports in a couple of 19th-century newspapers, he’d walk into a pub and call out “mark twain!,” prompting the bartender to take a piece of chalk and make two marks on a wall for twain—two—drinks. Twain denied this version of events, though.)

2. In addition to being a steamboat pilot, Mark Twain also worked as a miner.

Shortly after his stint on The Big Muddy, Twain headed west with his brother to avoid having to fight in the war. He took up work as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada, but the job wasn't for him. (He described it as "hard and long and dismal.") Fortunately for Twain, he didn’t have to work there long. In 1862, he was offered his first writing job for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he covered crime, politics, mining, and culture.

3. A story Mark Twain heard in a bar led to his “big break.”

Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1864, Twain headed to Calaveras County, California in hopes of striking gold as a prospector (he didn’t). However, it was during his time here that he heard the bartender of the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp share an incredulous story about a frog-jumping contest. Twain recounted the tale in his own words in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. It was published in 1865 in The New York Saturday Press and went on to receive national acclaim.

4. It took Mark Twain seven years to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Twain started writing the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, but he wasn’t too pleased with his progress. After writing about 400 pages, he told a friend he liked it "only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn" the manuscript. He put the project on the back burner for several years and finally finished it in 1883 following a burst of inspiration.

5. Mark Twain invented a board game.

While Twain was putting off writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he was busy working on a game he dubbed Memory Builder. It was originally supposed to be an outdoor game to help his children learn about England’s monarchs, but he ended up turning it into a board game to improve its chances of selling. However, after two years of work, it was still too convoluted to be marketable and required a vast knowledge of historical facts and dates. That didn’t stop him from patenting the game, though.

6. Mark Twain created "improved" scrapbooks and suspenders.

Memory Builder wasn't Twain's only invention; he also patented two other products. One was inspired by his love of scrapbooking, while the other came about from his hatred of suspenders. He designed a self-adhesive scrapbook that works like an envelope, which netted him about $50,000 in profits. His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” also ended up being useful, but for an entirely different purpose than Twain originally intended. According to The Atlantic, “This clever invention only caught on for one snug garment: the bra. For those with little brassiere experience, not a button, nor a snap, but a clasp is all that secures that elastic band, which holds up women's breasts. So not-so-dexterous ladies and gents, you can thank Mark Twain for that."

7. Thomas Edison filmed Twain at home.

Only one video of Twain exists, and it was shot by none other than his close friend Thomas Edison. The footage was captured in 1909—one year before the author died—at Twain’s estate in Redding, Connecticut. He’s seen sporting a light-colored suit and his usual walrus mustache, and one scene shows him with his daughters, Clara and Jean. On a separate occasion that same year, Edison recorded Twain as he read stories into a phonograph, but those audio clips were destroyed in a fire. No other recording of Twain’s voice exists.

8. Mark Twain did wear white suits, but not as often as you might think.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

When you think of Mark Twain, you probably picture him in an all-white suit with a cigar or pipe hanging from his lips. It’s true that he was photographed in a white suit on several occasions, but he didn’t start this habit until later in life. According to The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, “In December 1906, he wore a white suit while appearing before a congressional committee regarding copyright. He did this for dramatic emphasis. Several times after that he wore white out of season for effect.” He also refused to trade his white clothes for “shapeless and degrading black ones” in the winter, no matter how cold it got. So take that, people who subscribe to the “no white after Labor Day” rule.

9. At one point, Mark Twain had 19 cats.

Twain really, really liked cats—so much so that he had 19 of them at one time. And if he was traveling, he would “rent” cats to keep him company. In fact, he had a much higher opinion of felines than humans, remarking, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” He also had a talent for coming up with some great cat names; Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Sour Mash, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, Bambino, and Satan were just a few of the kitties in his brood.

10. Mark Twain probably didn’t say that thing you think he said.

Twain is one of the most misquoted authors in history. According to one quote wrongfully attributed to him, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” What Twain actually said was, “[He] was endowed with a stupidity which by the least little stretch would go around the globe four times and tie.” There are many, many examples of these.

11. Mark Twain accurately predicted when he would die.

When he was born on November 30, 1835, Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth. It appears roughly every 75 years, and Twain predicted he would die the next time it graced the sky. As he put it in 1909, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh, I am looking forward to that.” He ended up passing away at his Connecticut home on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky once again.

This story has been updated for 2020.