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The Truth, Mainly - 10/22/1990

Dealing with the ‘Third Person Imperial’

Poor Ed Jaksha. Everybody is ganging up on his 2 percent solution. Every day brings a new revelation of yet another way it would cripple the state or, worse, cause the Cornhuskers to drop in the ratings.

And all that pressure must be getting to him: He's starting to refer to himself in the Third Person Imperial.

"Ed Jaksha believes in this system of government and accepts his obligation to pay his share of its cost," Ed Jaksha says. "But Ed Jaksha believes we have more government today than we can afford."

When someone starts talking like that, he sounds as if he's either trying to sort out his multiple personalities or he's just transcended first-person pronouns. In either case, he marks himself as Someone on the Brink.

SPORTS FIGURES, of course, are often there, especially when they're trying to explain why they're worth 100 times as much money as English teachers, or why they act the way they do around women sportswriters.

"They don't nobody," Herman Hammerschlager might explain, "impugn Hammerin' Herman Hammerschlager's athleticism, or Hammerin' Herman's chivalry toward ladies of the opposite sex, without they want a fat lip."

Lieutenant Colonel Ollie North talked that way three years ago when he was explaining why he had to lie to Congress and subvert the Constitution because he was so much more patriotic than the rest of Us.

"If the Commander in Chief tells this lieutenant colonel to go stand in the corner and sit on his head," Ollie said, then he'd do it.

Imagine that.

I THINK HE meant his own head, not the Commander in Chief's, but when people transcend first-person pronouns, it's hard to tell.

Self-acknowledged bunkum artists like the Nasty boys pro rasslers use the Third Person Imperial to tell us how nasty they are but, unlike most users, they know they're blowing smoke.

I suppose Ed and Herman and Ollie got the idea from some English teacher who taught them it was egocentric and wrong to use "I" and "me" in their themes. And I suppose that Ed and Herman and Ollie never considered that their English teacher might not know what he was talking about and so they continued to follow his advice.

The Truth, Mainly


One of my English teacher friends thinks that when people use the Third Person Imperial, we should take them out and shoot them. He believes that extremism in pursuit of good grammar is not a vice, but I take a more moderate view:

I THINK WE should deprive them of their civil rights. And those caught taking them seriously should be deprived of their civil rights too.

I offer my own lid amendment — one that would make it illegal to be in favor of anything proposed by a user of the Third Personal Imperial. Anyone in the presence of a user would be required to laugh audibly in his face — in the same way we'd laugh audibly at a candidate who, for a really far-out example, asks us to read his lips.

Then we'd be required to hit him about the head and shoulders with an inflated pig bladder and shout, "A first-person pronoun, Sir! For the love of God, get yourself a first-person pronoun before it's too late!"

I know what you're expecting now: that I'll end this piece with some self-ridicule that undercuts all that I've just said and that implies that nobody should be offended because all this is just a joke.

But I'm serious. I'm not kidding. Really important things — like pronouns — this English teacher don't kid about.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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