Who needs "me" when we've got Bob? Bob, as in Bob on Bob, as in Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s quirky habit of talking about himself in the third person.
Here's the new Republican governor on his friends' advice to refer to historical figures in his inauguration speech: "Nah, nah, it's just going to be Bob unplugged," Bob said.
The speech itself contained this snippet about the importance he and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele will place on education: "We know," he started, then quickly righted course. "Mike and Bob know it is the ticket every young person must be given in order to succeed."
Bob had this to say about how he and his wife feel about moving into the governor's mansion: "There's been discussion between Bob and Kendel about life changes." Perhaps a higher power will help, since "religion is very personal to Bob and Kendel," according to Bob.
Of course, Bob doesn't really know of what he speaks: Asked about his idiomatic idiosyncrasy, he said said he hadn't really noticed it:
"It's just the way we speak," he said. "We're pretty informal."
Indeed, there's a rich history of politicians who eschew the "I" word, dating back at least to Julius Caesar, who uttered: "What Caesar thought would happen, did happen."
After losing the 1962 race for California governor, Nixon declared, "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore." Jack Kemp, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a guest speaker at Ehrlich's inauguration Wednesday, once declared that President George H.W. Bush had taken a bold step in "picking Jack Kemp" to head the federal agency.
And who can forget another Bob, former Senate majority leader Robert J. Dole? Dole's first-name-basis relationship with himself -- "Bob Dole respects the constitution!" -- was so frequently lampooned during his 1996 run for president that, he even mocked himself.
"I don't run around saying Bob Dole does this and Bob Dole does that," Dole said on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." "That's not something Bob Dole does. That's not something Bob Dole has ever done, or that Bob Dole will ever do."
Mark Helprin, a former speechwriter for Dole, has some unequivocal advice for Ehrlich:
"Stop it. Cut it out," he said. "It makes you seem like an egomaniac. Napoleon crowned himself -- that's the equivalent."
Linguists say that listeners can attach two opposing motives to speakers who talk about themselves in the third person.
Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University who studies the role of language in personal relationships, said using the third-person can be a way to avoid seeming too egotistical, too me-me-me.
But often that is not the way it's interpreted. "I think that the way it comes across is that you are setting up a scene and you're the star of it," Tannen said.
Helprin believes Dole's misguided use of the third person reflected both modesty and awe at what he had achieved.
"He was so surprised to be in these positions that he would sort of step outside himself," Helprin said. "He became split between this little boy from Kansas, this young soldier who could get people to vote for him, and this awkward Washington creature that was the other Bob Dole."
More and more politicians are employing this speech tactic because they view themselves as commodities, believes Peggy Noonan, an author, columnist and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan.
"What these guys are referring to are their brands," she said. "They feel they have to do this, see themselves as a commodity, in order to flourish in the media age."
It also can come in handy on a more metaphysical level, Noonan said. "I think when you've lived with your public construct and your iconic status long enough, and done all the phony or insubstantial or insincere things public people inevitably have to do (Hi! It wouldn't be the same if you weren't here! So glad to see ya!) after a while you really want to distance yourself from that public, outer guy."
Steven Keller, a professor of political communications at George Washington University who studies rhetoric and public address, said Ehrlich needn't fret.
"By naming himself, I think he underscores his involvement, his sincerity," Keller said. "In a sense it might work for him, because by expressing his name he's intensifying his own association with his thoughts."
Ehrlich has given no signs that he is about to change his speaking style. Maryland's 60th governor seems to like his name so much that he singled it out in a Maryland Public Television spot aimed at kids.
"The really cool thing about Bob," Bob told children's entertainer Bob the Vid Tech, is that "it's spelled the same way backward and forward!"
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this article.