Dictionary.com

Word Watch 2013: -splain

mansplain

The term mansplaining received the high honor of being nominated as one of the “most creative” new words at the American Dialect Society 2012 Word of the Year vote. In addition to being creative, this term, particularly the -splaining part, has proven to be incredibly robust and useful as a combining form in 2013, and it deserves a mention as Word of the Year buzz escalates.

In 2013, the lexicography team at Dictionary.com will add definitions for both mansplain and the -splain suffix (or libfix, for linguists out there). Here’s the definition at -splain: “a combining form extracted from mansplain and meaning ‘to explain or comment on something in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner.’” Mansplaining and its subsequent spin-offs have been brewing in the minds of English speakers over the last five years, but where does it all come from?

Before mansplain really took off a Los Angeles Times op-ed titled “Men who explain things” captured a yet-unnamed interaction that would soon come to be known as mansplaining. The author Rebecca Solnit sums it up as follows: “Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about.” The following year, Senator Tom Coburn evoked Ricky Ricardo of I Love Lucy when he told Justice Sonia Sotomayor “you’ll have lots of ‘splainin’ to do.”

From there, mansplain really took off. Over the last few years, it’s been championed by feminist causes, used in political discussions about female reproductive rights. While there was often a level of snark in this quirky portmanteau, since 2009 there’s been a shift in the tone of mansplain from intense and serious to casual and jocular, though early -splain words like whitesplaining, ablesplaining, and privilege-splaining still carry heavy cultural and political connotations. Often politicians’ names are tacked on to the -splain suffix (as in Mittsplainer). On the lighter side, there’s kidsplaining, dogsplaining, and catsplaining. The part you add onto -splain might describe the speaker, as in the original mansplaining, but it could also refer to the topic of explanation as in shoesplaining, or the method of explanation as in singsplaining or dancesplaining.

The possibilities are seeming endless on the -splain front. This gives Dictionary.com reason to believe that -splain is not just a temporary fad, but rather a stable new addition to English along with its libfix cousins like -gate, -pocalypse, and -zilla. Do you think -splain will be around for while, or will it be forgotten by the time 2014 comes along?

46 Comments

  1. Susan Blair -  March 13, 2014 - 10:20 am

    It is mind-blowing the depth of offense so many choose to take over a word like “splain” I am left speechless over the absurdity of it all. So many more important issues in this world to take a stand on. Too many for me to waste another minute on this silliness.

    Reply
  2. Zippi -  February 5, 2014 - 3:34 pm

    Oh, my poop!
    Why will people not speak properly?

    Reply
  3. Morgan Glessner -  February 4, 2014 - 4:05 pm

    :D xD XD :O :P

    Reply
  4. milo -  January 24, 2014 - 8:34 am

    Lucy,
    you got some splainin to do.

    Reply
  5. {Curly_Brace} -  January 22, 2014 - 5:39 pm

    So, lemme get this straight. It can be anything?! Well, that’s not good. You have people who like to take things TOO far with this word here. Not good, not good at all.

    Reply
  6. Donna -  December 26, 2013 - 2:16 pm

    Thank you for “splain” Desi Ar n a z!

    Reply
  7. Elisabeth Granata -  December 21, 2013 - 10:45 pm

    I started using this as a joke. Just imitating Ricky Ricardo!

    Reply
  8. Sun5hine -  December 15, 2013 - 9:45 am

    I would like to know why these idiots had to compare African Americans with the association Of this word at all.I think it’s foolish to add this word in the dictionary at all,it’s a fad people.Southerners have been saying splainin forever.American people seem to be getting dumber and dumber.what a shame,this proves education is going completely down the drain.Our children can’t write or function without a computer.
    For all you racist fools get a life or go back to where your ancestry began,if u know?

    Sent from my iPhone

    Reply
  9. NotTheExpected -  December 13, 2013 - 1:17 pm

    I honestly don’t think we should have brought politics into this but this is and you know will be used in more political conversations and will be involved and will quickly evolve into a word such as “nigger”, which originally meant someone who was ignorant or uneducated. I do not think -splaining should be used in a formal way when it comes to writing just as the word “ain’t” is not traditionally.
    I just want to say @s_newman that, in history, the word feminist is meant to be more militant because the feminists, not the women’s rights activists (they’re two completely different things according to history), demanded that the men submit to what the feminists wanted and to force other additions to the already existing women’s rights movement. The demands were (and still are) pretty outrageous and, honestly, just silly. I vaguely remember the details and do not want to give false information so I suggest you read on what they demanded specifically. But in curiosity, before you try to say that I am bigoted and endorsing a bigoted world, what do you see as “bigoted”? Is it, in your opinon, only going to be branded on an opposing argument or can you use it for your views (and others who have the same), too? You may have just met strong women’s rights activists rather than real feminists. In California, they are two different things. Which I think is pretty accurate since that is where most of this is.
    For example, a feminist has the mindset of “whatever you can do I can do better and anyone who opposes that is a bigot”. A woman who seeks women’s equality has the mindset of “whatever you can do I can do just as equally good”. A feminist will put up an arguement on how it’s okay to do one thing but not the other such as abortion versus murder. If it’s okay to kill a living being in the belly, then why is it still illegal to go around stabbing people to death and get jail time for it? They both have heart beats, bones, a central nervous system and nerve endings, and a potential life. What’s the difference? In her mindset, it’s okay to kill a baby because it puts a temporary hold on her pursuit of happiness but wrong to murder a small child or adult.
    The women’s rights activist just knows that she should be able to control her reproduction with simple birth control. This idea came about in the Gilded Age where the men would come home drunk and impregnate their wives by force thus having more children than they can afford.
    This can turn bad really quickly since this is a new word and will be used more than not. I think that both “mansplaining” and “womansplaining” are both derogatory if used as an official word. Perhaps as a word that can be used in a joking, informal sense. What I have in mind is the Youtube videos of “Shit [a certain group/people] do/say”. Not really serious but it sums up a general area.

    Reply
  10. Mao Marx -  December 13, 2013 - 5:51 am

    Thanks for this. It’s really given me some good ideas, like: gaysplaining, blacksplaining, islamosplaining, chicksplaining, poorsplaining, hispanosplaining, dikesplaining, spazsplaining etc.
    Can’t wait to use this on some hateful ANDROPHOBIC feminazi, or some bitter black bigot trying to impose his blackprivilege onto me, or even a mincing, happy-clappy, gaystapo clown flailing his limp wrist in my face.

    Please put this in the dictionary, I’m going to have such fun with this one.

    Thanks again.
    Bye

    Reply
  11. Scia -  December 13, 2013 - 12:41 am

    There’s actually an article on Yahoo that pretty much demands we ban the word ‘mansplaining’ (among others). I don’t agree with the article 100%, though the word does seem sexist against men.

    Actually, it seems that ‘-splain’ can be used as a hate term in general when used to refer the person/group that’s doing the “‘splaining.”

    Reply
  12. Anonymous -  December 13, 2013 - 12:11 am

    @s_newman

    When a class of people in western society that has more social and legal rights and privileges than their counterparts identifies as ‘oppressed’ while simultaneously belittling said ‘privileged’ counterparts, how could anyone NOT see them as supremacists? Claiming to stand for equality and actually believing in it are two very different things. People that want equality for all classes of people identify as egalitarians, not feminists. I for one am thankful that I was not born a male in the United States. There’s a reason that they’re four times as likely to commit suicide here.

    Another reason why respectable people, male and female alike, tend to hate feminists is that they lie more than politicians to spread their agenda. I’m sure most people know by now that the pay wage gap was fabricated based on comparing the wages of men in prestigious jobs vs. women that voluntarily stayed at home to raise their families; but would it shock you to learn that most domestic abuse victims are male, and females are notably more likely to strike their partners? (Source: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/SDVV.PDF)

    Feminism hasn’t been about ‘gender equality’ for decades. If you really want to do something about the women being oppressed in the world, why don’t you help out in the Middle East, where there really IS a patriarchy- instead of giving respectable women here a bad name by spreading your persecution complex? Susan B. Anthony is rolling in her grave.

    Reply
  13. Gordy Angster -  December 12, 2013 - 4:55 pm

    I’m a man , can I splain things too???
    I think i have the right to slaining things to everyone i want.

    Reply
  14. Max Brandon -  December 12, 2013 - 9:12 am

    Great article (albeit more than a bit off-balance).
    Gives rise to great potential for bitch-splainin’, Lucy.
    Or as it’s always been: just plain ol bitchin’ …

    Reply
  15. Thorsman -  December 12, 2013 - 7:08 am

    When I first read about this I was annoyed by the gross generalization, oversimplification and sexism that would make someone think that word is a good idea. But then I was thankful for it because it forced me to think more about it. One thing I like to do is take rhetoric and switch in the opposite and see how that sits with them. if we take some of the people’s helpful definitions of the word and swamp in woman for man, how do woman feel about this definition. It seems if a man came up with the definition but it was womansplaining the very existtence of eventing this definition would pepetuate its vearcity. In other words a woman thinking this defintion is right on, is guilty of the very thing the defintion of this word is critisizing.

    Reply
  16. Ben Delplanque -  December 12, 2013 - 1:41 am

    I like re-splaining – to explain about past events

    Reply
  17. Anthony St.Hill -  December 11, 2013 - 5:07 pm

    Having read so many inciteful comments from readers’ on “splaining”I’m now begining to erupt with something…how about:

    “Mandelasplaining”. Wouldn’t this new word embody and epitomise the extent of all human impartiality?..where the rule of sexisim and inequality doesn’t exist?

    Surely, human rights’ and equal opportunities,etc are all wraped-up in what this portmanteau would convey to someone – It sets a standard that all people regardless of gender or race can relate to and know where you’re coming from.

    Please Dictionary,com, let me know what you think and if my Mandelasplaining will set any new trends; maybe globally to say the least?

    Reply
  18. GBS -  December 11, 2013 - 9:24 am

    I hate the -gate suffix. It came from the name of a hotel! How it came to be mis-applied everywhere is beyond me.

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  19. Michael Billips -  December 11, 2013 - 9:17 am

    There are a lot of vulgar, profane, pejorative, sexist, and otherwise distasteful words out there. It’s the dictionary’s job to record them. It’s just a description. It’s not a prescription to use those words, it’s not saying that they are polite, kind, or accurate. It’s just saying those are the words people use.

    Reply
  20. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 11, 2013 - 2:32 am

    Hmm…I don’t think “-splain” is inherently prejudiced. It just depends on the way you use it.

    @Anonymous and her/his comment:
    I’m female, and here I am participating in the discussion.

    @DarkWingedAngel:
    One, your name is cool. Two, have you read the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson?

    Reply
  21. Maria Antoine -  December 10, 2013 - 4:02 pm

    If this is truly not suppose to be something that’s totally sexist then why must they add man to it why couldn’t it just be ‘splaning or ‘splain.
    For the love of god DO NOT add it to the dictionary! There are thousands of other words you could add!

    Reply
  22. thehumburger -  December 10, 2013 - 4:01 pm

    Also frequently employed when a man thinks he is allowed to have an opinion and dares to express it with a feminist present.

    Reply
  23. TJ Strickland -  December 10, 2013 - 9:10 am

    Just a note to the author: JUSTICE Sotomayor; not judge.

    Reply
  24. Mary Lillen -  December 10, 2013 - 6:58 am

    That is so sexist. Disgusting. How about womansplaining?

    Reply
  25. Helen -  December 9, 2013 - 8:43 pm

    As long as “I Love Lucy” has an audience, ‘splaining will be part of the language.

    Reply
  26. Charles van Blommestein -  December 9, 2013 - 3:54 pm

    Considering an alternate vocabule (how many remember Norm Crosby using this term?) I wonder if any Bushisms (Geo. Bush) still wander their way into our grammar?

    Reply
  27. Anunnymoose -  December 9, 2013 - 1:42 pm

    man-splain-ing

    A form of ad hominem employed by radfems when they are desperate to win the argument with a male, while ignoring the fact that they come off just as condescending as the man they are accusing of “mansplaining.”

    Reply
  28. Brittany -  December 9, 2013 - 1:21 pm

    Dave, this word came around for a reason.

    Reply
  29. Rodney Merrill -  December 9, 2013 - 11:52 am

    I think it’s a hoot. It should be complemented by femsplaining which is basically asserting that something is true because you FEEL its true.

    Reply
  30. Shmuel -  December 9, 2013 - 10:58 am

    I once had this word used against me (I am a man: pity me) in a disagreement over how inherently violent civilian as opposed to police and military society is. I questioned how in fact artificial the increase in level of violence from the former to the latter is i.e. perhaps life in civvies tends naturally toward policing and militarization. I mean, that’s why we need the uniforms, right? I thought I was just being a good cynic; apparently, I am just a man, and confident, and condescending, and inaccurate, and oversimplifying. We know cynicism, and men, get a bad rap – but is it an exclusively male trait?

    It was funny: I also noticed how confident, condescending, inaccurate, and matter o’ fact she (she was a woman: I pardon her) was, yet I did not feel the need to and was entirely unprepared and unequipped to pathologize her, preemptively, at least. I was interested, above all, to hear what she had to say in defense of the naturally noncoercive civilian life. I was in no position to judge her person. Furthermore, this was a conversation online, so I was still less in a position to judge her tone. I have also heard that I speak equivocally. Am I right to say she has some splainin’ to do? Womansplaining?

    Unfortunately we tend toward definitive slogans in language. The show must go on, and, ultimately, it does. Meanwhile, we award ourselves, while we could be speaking. I am left wondering what is more creative: the risk, the reward, of being right, of being wrong; simultaneously, and without end; or the finality of our pathologies or patholgizing, and our congratulations to ourselves and between each other, positive or negative?

    Reply
  31. Anonymous -  December 9, 2013 - 10:46 am

    I think this article doesn’t explain mansplaining enough, so I just want to elaborate on it further. I can’t speak for all feminists, but this is what it means to me.

    1. Mansplaining is the phenomena where men dismiss the years of patriarchy women have dealt with, even though they haven’t experienced it in the same way. It’s normally used to refer to a specific conversation when a man discredits or belittles a woman’s ideas because he think he knows better and ex”splains” why he is right.

    2. “Men are the beneficiaries of patriarchy, and everyone needs to recognise that. Even ‘non-sexist’ men benefit from patriarchy, and that can’t be forgotten. This isn’t to say men are the only perpetrators of sexism, of course people of every gender can say misogynistic things, but they hold less power in society, and so the sexism that they reproduce is less powerful.”

    3. Why does it matter? “Mansplaining is a scourge in academia, online activism, and the blogosphere that discourages women from participating in the dialogue.”

    4. The term was created as a way for women to call out a problem that’s more specific than sexism, which is a really broad term. Mansplaining automatically describes the sexism occurring, which is handy. Also there are terms within feminism that further define sexism or other oppressive actions, like “white feminism”, “cissexism”, etc. I never find offensive, because when people say them to me, I realize they’re challenging me to rethink my idea, not labeling myself and all white/cis/etc. people as horrible.

    5. The term was created as a way for women to call out a problem that’s more specific than sexism.

    Reply
  32. s_newman -  December 9, 2013 - 10:44 am

    @Dave: Yes, we should be doing those things. Fortunately, most types of feminists have been working to do so for decades (ignoring the trans-exclusive ones, who say harmful and inaccurate things about transpeople). It is not impossible for a woman to be sexist against a man – it does happen, and when it does it isn’t any more okay than the reverse – but I would argue that the term ‘-splain’ is not sexist or otherwise discriminatory. It captures what happens when a member of a societally privileged group (for instance, a man, or a white person, or an able-bodied individual) believes that they have come to an understanding of distant oppression and/or activism and ‘explains’ it to the people who have been living it. It may or may not be well-intended, but either way it almost always comes across as so disconnected from the reality of the challenges it tries to explain that a historically oppressed group is likely just to roll their eyes in response. Unsurprisingly, ‘splaining’ often goes hand-in-hand with privilege, especially of the unrecognised variety. Privilege is not the fault of the person bearing it – most often it’s just a side-effect of who you happened to be born as – but for a privileged individual, the struggles of a marginalised social group are not going to be easily accessible, and perspectives from a great distance from the privileged are likely to be underdeveloped and irrelevant and condescending.

    ‘Mansplaining’ is a useful term because it captures frequent but unhelpful contributions to social justice movements that are fighting for equality. No marginalised group wants to see the privileged counterpart harmed. They just want to be fairly treated. It’s really a shame that ‘feminist’ gets misinterpreted as ‘female supremacist’, when for 99% of the ones I’ve met, it’s about dismantling oppression, ensuring that double-standards are erased, and fighting against discrimination on the basis of gender. That goes for women, for men, for transpeople, and for those who are the most comfortable and secure identifying as neither traditional gender. Things have improved considerably in the last hundred years for women (and for several other types of marginalised groups), but there’s some way to go. The term ‘mansplaining’ isn’t used as an overgeneralisation to dismiss men, in my experience; it’s employed in a specific way to describe particular sorts of comments in discussions about gender-related inequality issues. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it used in a way that implies all men do it. I hope not, especially as there are a whole bunch of men involved with the feminist movement. It certainly isn’t an ‘us-versus-them’ sort of situation.

    If you’re interested in helping to create a non-bigoted world – and I applaud anyone who is! – then your first job is to have a look at what the gender-equality movement looks like at the moment. A few relevant FAQs from one site, with lots of links if you’re interested in exploring further:

    “Aren’t feminists just sexists towards men?”
    http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/06/03/faq-arent-feminists-just-sexists-towards-men/

    “Isn’t ‘the patriarchy’ just some conspiracy theory that blames all men, even decent men, for women’s woes?”
    http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/03/21/faq-isnt-the-patriarchy-just-some-conspiracy-theory-that-blames-all-men-even-decent-men-for-womens-woes/

    “Don’t women have ‘female privilege’?”
    http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2008/02/09/faq-female-privilege/

    Okay, end TL;DR. Thanks for reading. :D

    Reply
  33. Jerry -  December 9, 2013 - 10:30 am

    Speaking of libfixes, what about the ubiquitous ‘-athon’?

    Reply
  34. DarkWingedAngel -  December 9, 2013 - 9:38 am

    Hmmm, I don’t what to say. I;m still processing all this information.

    Reply
  35. Fred -  December 9, 2013 - 9:00 am

    Dave is absolutely right. Sexism against the male minority is just as bad as sexism against the female majority.

    Reply
  36. Ida Bailey -  December 9, 2013 - 4:47 am

    I am 65 years old and Black. As long as I can remember, Blacks have used the word “splain, to mean explain or clarify. In my community it was not unusual to hear a parent, sibling , or friend say, ” girl, you better splain yourself” when you were late, or if you said or did something out of the ordinary. At that time, it was a word that, when used, caused people to think that the speaker was uneducated.

    Reply
  37. Dave -  December 9, 2013 - 1:35 am

    I appreciate that English is a living, dynamic language, but should we be promoting a word that is at its heart sexist. I know that there are men who think and speak like that, but to infer that all men do it is as offensive as assuming that all women need men to explain things to them in this manner.

    We should be helping each other to get past the bigoted generalisations that propagate through our culture and see that each individual person is more than just a gender, sexuality, colour, age or religion.

    Reply
  38. George Leiner -  December 8, 2013 - 5:36 pm

    Brilliant, Jane! My first encounter with ‘splainin’ You write with great elegance, concision and power. I’ll be back for more!

    Reply
  39. Damian -  December 8, 2013 - 12:07 pm

    I think it’ll be around for a while. I could imagine people, and actors quoting movies saying “you got some ‘splainin’ to do” and it’s a little fun to say.

    Reply
  40. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 8, 2013 - 6:34 am

    1st comment! (Sorry if it’s not; no others are showing up right now.)

    Well, Ms. Solomon, have you ever experienced mansplaining? (And why is “mansplain” underlined in the spell checker?)

    I’m not sure we need all these types of “splaining.” But, to go with the flow, how about “wastasplaining”? That’s explaining something to a person from a position of having wasta, in a condescending manner. I’d better explain that, since you may never have heard of wasta. Wasta is a combination of money and influence, usually held by Arabs. (No offense if you’re Arab – that’s just what I’ve noticed in the Middle East.) If you have wasta, you can avoid things like speeding tickets, have things done quickly, and generally get things done your way and push people around. Wasta often comes with a name; if you belong to such-and-such a family, you have a lot of wasta.

    The suffix -geddon is also common. (“Run for your life! It’s gnomeageddon!”) -splain will probably be around for a while.

    Reply
  41. clint -  December 8, 2013 - 4:54 am

    splainin’

    Reply
  42. clint -  December 8, 2013 - 4:52 am

    No doubt that “splain” originated with with Ricky Ricardo. When I married my wife 32 years ago she was telling me I had some spainin’ to do, a la Ricky/Lucy.

    Reply
  43. tianguo -  December 8, 2013 - 2:14 am

    Hmm.. I tend to hear it from white girls, the kind that’s all up in arms about victims and stuff. Usually -splaining is not so much a meaningful explanation on anything as it is an opinion on why you’re mean, how feelings are hurt, and so forth, but the speaker doesn’t think it’s an opinion (they heard it from social science professors), so maybe -splaining isn’t the right prefix?

    Reply
  44. Marienne Litolff -  December 7, 2013 - 10:14 pm

    My iPad is playing up – my earlier comment (10.03pm) was an error.

    Reply
  45. Marienne Litolff -  December 7, 2013 - 10:06 pm

    Will what be forgotten by the time 2014 comes along? Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.

    Reply

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