A handy crowdsourced linguistic guide to a universal blight.
At this point, “mansplaining” is a crucial part of the American cultural consciousness— but in fact, the now-ubiqitous term only dates back to 2008. Its first known use was among LiveJournal blog commenters, shortly after the publication of Rebecca Solnit’s Los Angeles Times essay, “Men who explain things.”
Although Solnit did not coin the phrase, she later told Guernica, “the essay makes it clear mansplaining is not a universal flaw of the gender, just the intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”
Soon after, “mansplaining” became a linguistic phenomenon, helping women to finally define an experience that had long plagued them. “Mansplain” made its way into the Urban Dictionary in 2009. In 2010, “mansplainer” was a New York Times Word of the Year. In 2014, Salon declared the word dead (the true sign of making it); the Oxford Dictionaries added “mansplain” as an entry; and the Macquarie Dictionary named it Word of the Year.
At its most basic, “mansplaining” refers to — as a 2015 Merriam-Webster “Words We’re Watching” column put it — “what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does.”
Mansplaining doesn’t mean “explaining done by a man.” It means “a man chose to barge in with explanations without checking the credentials of anyone else in the conversation, assuming his were better than anyone else’s in the room — i.e., that he was the expert by default.” It is the consequence of a culture that devalues non-men, especially non-white non-men. The individual man who does this is just as likely to be unaware that he’s doing this as he is to be a blatant sexist. It’s only avoided by conscious consideration of context and a willingness to cede the pedestal to others.
Basically, ’splaining — be it mansplaining, whitesplaining, or Trumpsplaining — is about wielding one’s privilege in a way that undermines the folks who get ’splained. It’s a silly word, but serious business.
As Solnit said of her original essay, “The battle for women to be treated like human beings with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of involvement in cultural and political arenas continues, and it is sometimes a pretty grim battle. When I wrote the essay…I surprised myself in seeing that what starts out as minor social misery can expand into violent silencing and even violent death.”’Splaining is about wielding one’s privilege in a way that undermines the folks who get ’splained. Click To Tweet
Although the term “mansplaining” originated in the United States, the practice may very well be universal — and in fact, the term has already moved abroad. In 2015, the Swedish Language Council welcomed “mansplaining” to its list of new Swedish words. Iceland made its own variant (“hrútskýring,” or “ramsplaining”) the 2016 Word of the Year — and named a beer after it. In Greek, Japanese, Portuguese, Swedish, and many other languages, the English “mansplaining” just gets dropped into the conversation, and folks nod.
Having the words to describe a problem makes sense of a problem, changes how you regard yourself and your ’splainer, and provides fellowship: I’m not the first person to be treated this way; I’m not the first to fight back.
As one professor of Women’s Studies told me, “Knowing the word allows you to discover your outrage. You learn it, then you know what it is you’ve been seething about. Man, it’s fucking annoying!”
Identifying, critiquing, and stopping mansplaining can also be a feat of linguistic cunning, humor, and solidarity. We plumb our languages to find the funniest puns and most trenchant critiques of sexism; we laugh, because humor diagnoses and deflates the behavior; sometimes we invent words, but then rethink our assumptions (as in the case of certain terms for mansplaining, based on body parts, which are wrong and implicitly transphobic in their suggestion that genitalia determines gender).
In honor of this term and its many iterations, we decided to roll out mansplaining translations in 33 other languages.
This list was crowdsourced among friends, writers, and scholars, who reached out to their own friends and families around the world to collect the words on everybody’s lips — and even to coin a few. Like the original term, new words for “mansplaining” get invented on the fly, sometimes in a single, offhand tweet. From that point of origin, they go viral on social media, or get adopted by a national tourist board, and finally make their way into lexicons.
Imagine us all talking, multiple generations of native and non-native speakers, our elders DM-ing us the fine points of orthography, grammar, and party popper emojis — because that’s how glad they are that we wrote to ask them about gender, power, and the love of language.
By all means, feel free to run these examples by your aunties and listen while they vie to invent better ones. Different words offer different ways to discover, think about, and respond to the problem.
Ultimately, this list sheds light on the potential language has to help us critique and battle sexism — making not just our lexicons, but our very lives, better.
American Sign Language
(man) + (explain) + (above you)
رجلفسير /rajulfsir = رجل /rajul (man) + تفسير /tafsir (explanation)
Mandarin: 直男癌 = 直男 (straight/direct man) + 癌 (cancer/sickness)
Another collaborator felt that 直男癌, vivid though it is, didn’t sufficiently convey mansplaininess, so she offered different terms meaning “arrogant explaining man” in:
Mandarin: 傲释男风= “arrogant explaining man tendency (or style).” She adds, “the character 风 (wind) gives the ‘mansplaining’ term a poetic, slogan, or more official feel, like it’s a proverb.”
mandskueliggøre = mand (man) + anskueliggøre (clarify/illustrate)
farklare = far (father) + forklare (explain). Says our correspondent, “That would technically be dadsplain, I suppose. Still, the implicit paternalism is apt.”
miesitelmä = mies (man) + esitelmä (presentation)
“It’s not uncommon to say someone droned on by saying they made an esitelmä.”
mecspliquer = mec (guy) + expliquer (to explain)
herrklären = Herr (gentleman) + erklären (to explain)
הסגברה/hasgavrah = הסברה/hasbarah (explanation) + גבר/gever (man).
“It helps that there is a verb, hagbarah/הגברה, meaning ‘to amplify,’ that comes from the root ג ב ר and sounds like hasbrah — so the mashup sounds right.”
Hindi and Urdu
gyanmardi = gyan (knowledge) + mard (man)
“Gyan is from Sanskrit, so maybe call this a Hindi/Urdu neologism.”
fickótúlmagyaráz = fickó (fellow) + túlmagyaráz (expounding/overexplaining)
hrútskýring = hrútur (ram, an uncastrated male sheep) + útskýring (explaining)
lakiterang = laki-laki (man) + terangkan (explaining)
Our correspondent’s parents debated about removing the e after the t to make the term easier to pronounce (i.e., lakitrang, instead of lakiterang).
fearmhíniú = fear (man) + mínigh (to explain)
maschiegazione = maschio (man) + spiegazione (explanation)
横柄な男の解説= “patronizing man’s explanation”
マンスプレイ二ング= “mansupureningu” This transliteration incorporates the English into Japanese.
오빠 알어/Oppa Aruh = “Big Brother knows”
One correspondent says, “On Korean Twitter they like to use an English variant, oppa knows (oppa means “big brother,” also well-known from PSY’s song ‘(Oppan) Gangnam Style’).” Another adds, “Oppa Aruh means: 1. My boyfriend knows. 2. My brother knows. 3. A man who is older than me and whom I know (like a friend) knows…”
Bookque (pronounced “bokie”) = “Dirt blowing in the wind”
“When I was growing up, there was a term used for when a woman thought that a man was full of baloney or talking to hear themselves speak. It was Bookque, which literally means “dirt blowing in the wind,” our correspondent notes. “Bookque was also the nickname that Mohegan Chief Matahga’s elder sister, Nettie Fowler, called him, back in the early 1900s, according to my great-aunt who was Matahga and Nettie’s niece. This was a term of sarcastic endearment. Additionally, in the case of a Chief or any Native leader, it’s one of many traditional strategies used to keep a person from getting a big head.”
masplicar = mascle (male) + explicar (explain)
wytłumęczenie = wytłumaczenie (explanation), with one letter changed to suggest męczyć (“to torture, bore, annoy, oppress, tire.” Another related word is męka, meaning “martyrdom or annoyance, or an obnoxious or grueling task”). Our correspondent notes that this word can be “all-purpose for mansplaining, whitesplaining, straightsplaining,” but a strictly “mansplaining” neologism could be:
wytłumęższczenie = wytłumaczenie (explanation) + mężsczc (from męższczyzna, man)
Speakers of Portuguese tend to use “mansplaining,” but have also been noted as saying:
homexplicar, homeplicanismo, homexplicação = homem (man) + explicar (to explain)
Romanes (Slovak dialect)
Muršaxaľarel = Murš (man/masculine) + axal’arel (explain)
мужобъяснение = мужчина (man) + объяснение (explanation)
hombrexplicar = hombre (man) + explicar (explain)
machoplantear = macho (male) + plantear (to lay out an idea)
Our correspondent is a man, who says hesitantly, “Mtumeleza would maybe be the Swahili equivalent. Mtu is man (but a lot of Swahili isn’t gendered, which complicates this), kueleza is to explain, and the m in the middle denotes an object (and we all know mansplaining requires a female object to be explained to!). Subjects would change the prefix, so ‘you are mansplaining to her’ would be unamtumeleza, ‘he is mansplaining to her’ would be anamtumeleza, ‘I am mansplaining to her’ would be ninamtumeleza. I’d run it past other Swahili speakers before you do anything with it haha.”
pareliwanag = pare (man) + ipaliwanag (explain). Literally, “Man explains it to me.”
Our correspondent says, “There’s no real word in Tagalog that’s like mansplain. I would go for ‘ipaliwanag mo sa akin pare sige,’ which would be very sassy.” That means, “Go ahead and explain it to me, I dare you.”
ஆண் விளக்கம் /aannvilakkam = ஆண்/aann (male) + விளக்கம் /vilakkam (explanation)
мужяснення (pronounced “muzhjasnennia”) = муж (man) + пояснення(explanation, literally, “throwing light on something”)
Our correspondent says, “‘Lấn chiếm’ is Vietnamese for aggressively expanding [as in taking up too much space], used both literally and figuratively. Probably a good phrase to popularize, as there is a limited concept of mansplaining in Vietnamese.”
gwrsbonio = gwr (man) + esbonio (to explain)
The possibilities of “man + explaining” in Welsh include gwrywgluro and dynsbonio, but our correspondent says, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, “I would tend to favor gwrsbonio, as it trips off the tongue a bit.”
herklern = her (mister) + klern (think/opine)
Variants include zokherklern (from zokher, male) and bokherklern (from bokher, young man)
Thanks to everybody who contributed to the crowdsourcing for this piece. The fee for this story has been donated to the Social Justice Dictionary.