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)."

6 Facts About International Women's Day

iStock.com/robeo
iStock.com/robeo

For more than 100 years, March 8th has marked what has come to be known as International Women's Day in countries around the world. While its purpose differs from place to place—in some countries it’s a day of protest, in others it’s a way to celebrate the accomplishments of women and promote gender equality—the holiday is more than just a simple hashtag. Ahead of this year’s celebration, let’s take a moment to explore the day’s origins and traditions.

1. International Women's Day originated more than 100 years ago.

On February 28, 1909, the now-dissolved Socialist Party of America organized the first National Woman’s Day, which took place on the last Sunday in February. In 1910, Clara Zetkin—the leader of Germany’s 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party—proposed the idea of a global International Women’s Day, so that people around the world could celebrate at the same time. On March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held; more than 1 million people in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Denmark took part.

2. The celebration got women the vote in Russia.

In 1917, women in Russia honored the day by beginning a strike for “bread and peace” as a way to protest World War I and advocate for gender parity. Czar Nicholas II, the country’s leader at the time, was not impressed and instructed General Khabalov of the Petrograd Military District to put an end to the protests—and to shoot any woman who refused to stand down. But the women wouldn't be intimidated and continued their protests, which led the Czar to abdicate just days later. The provisional government then granted women in Russia the right to vote.

3. The United Nations officially adopted International Women's Day in 1975.

In 1975, the United Nations—which had dubbed the year International Women’s Year—celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8th for the first time. Since then, the UN has become the primary sponsor of the annual event and has encouraged even more countries around the world to embrace the holiday and its goal of celebrating “acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.”

4. International Women's Day is an official holiday in dozens of countries.

International Women’s Day is a day of celebration around the world, and an official holiday in dozens of countries. Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, Uganda, Mongolia, Georgia, Laos, Cambodia, Armenia, Belarus, Montenegro, Russia, and Ukraine are just some of the places where March 8th is recognized as an official holiday.

5. It’s a combined celebration with Mother’s Day in several places.

In the same way that Mother’s Day doubles as a sort of women’s appreciation day, the two holidays are combined in some countries, including Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, and Uzbekistan. On this day, children present their mothers and grandmothers with small gifts and tokens of love and appreciation.

6. Each year's festivities have an official theme.

In 1996, the UN created a theme for that year’s International Women’s Day: Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future. In 1997, it was “Women at the Peace Table,” then “Women and Human Rights” in 1998. They’ve continued this themed tradition in the years since; for 2019, it's “Better the balance, better the world” or #BalanceforBetter.

8 Enlightening Facts About Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu
Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu

For decades, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer has used television, radio, the written word, and the internet to speak frankly on topics relating to human sexuality, turning what were once controversial topics into healthy, everyday conversations.

At age 90, Westheimer shows no signs of slowing down. As a new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth, gears up for release on Hulu this spring, we thought we’d take a look at Westheimer’s colorful history as an advisor, author, and resistance sniper.

1. The Nazis devastated her childhood.

Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928 in Wiesenfeld, Germany, the only child of Julius and Irma Siegel. When Ruth was just five years old, the advancing Nazi party terrorized her neighborhood and seized her father in 1938, presumably to shuttle him to a concentration camp. One year later, Karola—who eventually began using her middle name and took on the last name Westheimer with her second marriage in 1961—was sent to a school in Switzerland for her own protection. She later learned that her parents had both been killed during the Holocaust, possibly at Auschwitz.

2. She shocked classmates with her knowledge of taboo topics.

Westheimer has never been bashful about the workings of human sexuality. While working as a maid at an all-girls school in Switzerland, she made classmates and teachers gasp with her frank talk about menstruation and other topics that were rarely spoken of in casual terms.

3. She trained as a sniper for Jewish resistance fighters in Palestine.

Following the end of World War II, Westheimer left Switzerland for Israel, and later Palestine. She became a Zionist and joined the Haganah, an underground network of Jewish resistance fighters. Westheimer carried a weapon and trained as both a scout and sniper, learning how to throw hand grenades and shoot firearms. Though she never saw direct action, the tension and skirmishes could lapse into violence, and in 1948, Westheimer suffered a serious injury to her foot owing to a bomb blast. The injury convinced her to move into the comparatively less dangerous field of academia.

4. A lecture ignited her career.

 Dr. Ruth Westheimer participates in the annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2015 in New York City.
Robin Marchant, Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald

In 1950, Westheimer married an Israeli soldier and the two relocated to Paris, where she studied psychology at the Sorbonne. Though the couple divorced in 1955, Westheimer's education continued into 1959, when she graduated with a master’s degree in sociology from the New School in New York City. (She received a doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1970.) After meeting and marrying Manfred Westheimer, a Jewish refugee, in 1961, Westheimer became an American citizen.

By the late 1960s, she was working at Planned Parenthood, where she excelled at having honest conversations about uncomfortable topics. Eventually, Westheimer found herself giving a lecture to New York-area broadcasters about airing programming with information about safe sex. Radio station WYNY offered her a show, Sexually Speaking, that soon blossomed into a hit, going from 15 minutes to two hours weekly. By 1983, 250,000 people were listening to Westheimer talk about contraception and intimacy.

5. People told her to lose her accent.

Westheimer’s distinctive accent has led some to declare her “Grandma Freud.” But early on, she was given advice to take speech lessons and make an effort to lose her accent. Westheimer declined, and considers herself fortunate to have done so. “It helped me greatly, because when people turned on the radio, they knew it was me,” she told the Harvard Business Review in 2016.

6. She’s not concerned about her height, either.

In addition to her voice, Westheimer became easily recognizable due to her diminutive stature. (She’s four feet, seven inches tall.) When she was younger, Westheimer worried her height might not be appealing. Later, she realized it was an asset. “On the contrary, I was lucky to be so small, because when I was studying at the Sorbonne, there was very little space in the auditoriums and I could always find a good-looking guy to put me up on a windowsill,” she told the HBR.

7. She advises people not to take huge penises seriously.

Westheimer doesn’t frown upon pornography; in 2018, she told the Times of Israel that viewers can “learn something from it.” But she does note the importance of separating fantasy from reality. “People have to use their own judgment in knowing that in any of the sexually explicit movies, the genitalia that is shown—how should I say this? No regular person is endowed like that.”

8. She lectures on cruise ships.

Westheimer uses every available medium—radio, television, the internet, and even graphic novels—to share her thoughts and advice about human sexuality. Sometimes, that means going out to sea. The therapist books cruise ship appearances where she offers presentations to guests on how best to manage their sex lives. Westheimer often insists the crew participate and will regularly request that the captain read some of the questions.

“The last time, the captain was British, very tall, and had to say ‘orgasm’ and ‘erection,’” she told The New York Times in 2018. “Never did they think they would hear the captain talk about the things we were talking about.” Of course, that’s long been Westheimer’s objective—to make the taboo seem tame.

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