Julius Caesar, the Hulk, and other Illeists

I’m getting ready to teach Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar this morning, and am reminded of the protagonist’s tendency to refer to himself in the third person, as in Act I scene 2:

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
Cry “Caesar!”—Speak. Caesar is turned to hear.
Dramatically, this practice underscores the character’s self-regard. As a linguistic phenomenon, the habit is called “ille-ism,” a term coined by Coleridege in the early 19th century, according to the OED:

1809–10   S. T. Coleridge Friend (1818) I. 36   For one piece of egotism..there are fifty that steal out in the mask of tuisms and ille-isms.

On-line, however, this verbal mannerism is known as “Hulk-speak”:

This speak type for character has more muscle than brain.They substitute “Me” for “I”, or else refer to themselves in third person.


I recall that Former Kansas senator and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole also spoke in this way, as was amusingly described by Michael Lewis in the New Republic some years ago (and reprinted in his 2007 book, Losers):

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 9.04.01 AM

Post-script. My friend Thomas points out that I missed some big illeisms here.

Nixon’s so-called last press conference (1962): “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

Donald Trump recently, from CNN:

“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” Trump said.


About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Cartoons, Classics, Drama, Language & Etymology, Poetry, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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