Word Watch 2013: -splain


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?


  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.

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

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

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

    :D xD XD :O :P

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

    you got some splainin to do.

  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.

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

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

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

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

  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

  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.

  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.

  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.”

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


    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.

  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.

  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’ …

  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.

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

    I like re-splaining – to explain about past events

  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?

  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.

  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.

  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.

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

  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!

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