‘I’s’ Are Gone, Replaced by Third Person

So, the other day, see, Mike Downey was reading this story in the paper about Bo Jackson, the Raider-Royal tailback-outfielder, and, in a discussion of his present condition and his future plans, Bo Jackson said: “Bo Jackson has to do what’s best for Bo Jackson.”

Well, it wasn’t long after that that Mike Downey came across another story, this one about Mike Ditka, the coach of the Chicago Bears, whose players happen to be playing the Raiders today, and in the midst of a chat about a mistake he recently made, Mike Ditka said: “Mike Ditka isn’t right when he does things like that.”

It seemed only a coincidence at the time, but before long there was an interview in the same paper about Doug Williams, the Washington Redskins quarterback, who has accepted an understudy role without complaint, and Doug Williams gave himself a little credit, saying: “Doug Williams doesn’t want to cause anybody any trouble.”

And all this began to amuse Mike Downey, particularly when he happened to catch a college basketball game on television, and Dick Vitale was one of the announcers, and he was doing a bit of criticism of one of the ballclubs, during which he said: “Hey, Dick Vitale tells it like it is.”


Mike Downey started to think this was getting pretty funny.

He started thinking about the new rage in public speaking--the third person--and started wondering what would have happened if others had addressed themselves the way some of today’s popular athletic figures do.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, for example, could have cast an eye on the Philippines and said: “Hey, Douglas MacArthur shall return.”

Or, Clark Gable could have paused outside that mansion door, looked his wife coldly in the eye, then said: “Frankly, Scarlett, Rhett Butler doesn’t give a damn.”


And, what about Frank Sinatra? The man really knows how to belt out a song, but then again, he could have worked out an entirely new arrangement: “And through it all, when there was doubt, Frank Sinatra ate it up, and spit it out. The record shows, Frank Sinatra took the blows, and did it Frank Sinatra’s way!”

This could be a trend worth exploring. Mike Downey better look into this.

Teachers must be teaching their English students something new these days. The pronoun is becoming obsolete. Perhaps it has become gauche to speak in the first person, and some Americans have yet to be let in on why.

The truth probably has more to do with the influence of television. Turn on some interview program some night, maybe a Barbara Walters or an “Entertainment Tonight” type of thing, and note the way the interviewers attempt to draw out their subjects. Sometimes they get cosmically philosophical.

Barbara Walters will ask somebody like Eddie Murphy, “What’s next for Eddie Murphy?” And it is sort of weird, because Eddie Murphy is sitting there in the same room, right next to her.

Brent Musburger has a habit of doing that kind of thing, too, sitting next to Bob Knight and asking something like: “How does Bob Knight evaluate Bob Knight?”

No wonder the public speaker of today has fallen into the routine of addressing himself as if he were another being. Some athletes use “I” when talking about their private lives, and their full names when talking about their sports careers. To wit: “I had to do what’s best for Chili Davis and his family.”

Boxers are particularly good at this. Self-promotion comes so instinctively to some fighters, they cannot help repeating their names and the date of their next fight throughout every conversation, as in, “Thomas Hearns is in great shape, and on April 25, he is going to teach Marvelous Marvin Hagler a lesson.” Often they mention the specific date of the fight, even if the fight is the next night. And they usually speak of themselves in the third person. The more Mike Downey thinks about it, the more he thinks it is actually pretty cool. This could be something the whole country should consider. Talk about yourself this way from now on. The word “I” is used too much anyway, so take a break from it. This is not the “Me” generation anymore. Call yourself by your whole name.


One of our television heroes--Tonto--did it. He even addressed his friends that way. Tonto told the Lone Ranger: “Tonto go to town now.” He rarely said: “I’ll catch you later.” Tonto talked very much like Bo Jackson, except Bo is better with verbs.

Bo Jackson has made an art of talking in the third person. Where he picked up this habit, Mike Downey doesn’t know, but maybe he was one of those school kids who got nervous whenever the teacher called on him in class, like the time she asked him to give an example of a sentence with two pronouns, and he replied: “Who? Me?”

One of these years, on his wedding day, the preacher is going to ask: “Do you, Bo Jackson, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” And he, of course, will reply: “Bo Jackson does.”