“There’s Many a Slip ‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip(ogram)”

Of all the things that interested me about  the recent announcement  by LeBron James that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, the one that most got my attention was his referring to himself in the third person as in, “I have to do what is best for LeBron James”.  He did this a number of times during his interview on ESPN.  Of course, this isn’t too surprising.  In our celebrity culture, particularly among star athletes, this is what passes for almost ordinary conversation.  After all, many of these men have been identified as possible superstars as early as elementary school and have lived in  some kind of bubble most of their lives.  Who can blame them for getting confused by the difference between themselves and the image of themselves?

Of course, there are occasional instances of ordinary people speaking this way.    Well…almost ordinary people.  There was a Seinfield  episode which features a character, Jimmy, who continually referred to himself in the third person.  Turned out  that Elaine thought he was talking about someone else….and she was interested in that someone.  Also, in that  episode, the usage rubs off on George, who exclaims “George is getting upset!”  But, that was a TV show and shouldn’t be confused with real life.  

Believe it or not, there is a single word that describes this phenomenon (referring to oneself in the third person), illeism.  How great is that!  Boy, how I love the English language.  A  perfect word with a fairly broad and useful application.  But I’m often startled that there are some words that exist for one, and one limited use only.  I can’t understand why we need those words if they refer to  such a unique and rare circumstance.  Why not just say the circumstance and leave it at that.  I know I’m being vague here so I’ll give an example:  Recently, a friend mentioned to me the existence of a book that was purposefully written without using the letter, “e”.  It’s a bit famous (although not to me).  I googled it and it turns out writing something while intentionally omitting a letter has a name— a lipogram.  Why would you need to give something like that a name?  It is exactly what it is…and occurs so infrequently; why the need  to waste a word that might be available for something more common?  (For the curious, the aforementioned book is Gadsby:Champion of Youth, written by Ernest Vincent Wright in 1939.   A further aside…. I tried writing a blog post without using the word “I”—-I only made it through the title).

Now, you probably didn’t notice but what  I’ve written here is, in fact, a lipogram!  Written entirely without using the letter, “z”.  Granted, not a particularly clever, interesting or ironic blog.  Certainly, a departure from the kind of entry Neil Stein usually writes.


2 Responses to ““There’s Many a Slip ‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip(ogram)””

  1. Mike McPartland Says:

    Neil, in reading your blogs, I was happy and surprised to learn about the words Illeism and lipogram. An English teacher, I’m always interestred in new words; and to check on the pronunciation of the former, I consulted my Webster’s 1980 Dictionary. Another surprise! They were not listed in this rather large dictionary. Too old, I guess. Anyway, I do remember that Charles De Gaulle was known for his illeistic speeches. Finally, I think some people use “I” instead of “me” incorrectly because it sounds less common and more sophisticated, as in “Between you and I.”

  2. iron(ic)man triathlon Says:

    mike… nice to have a new reader. i almost agree with you about the ‘between you and i” thing. my own opinion is that it’s not that “I” sounds sooo sophisticated but that an incorrect “me” might sound dumb, coarse, uneducated or something like that. that’s what me thinks.

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