Here, Sweetie, Let Me Tell You About ‘Mansplaining’

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Photo: 169/George Marks/Corbis

The modern-language-focused Oxford Dictionaries has acquired a new pile of additions. One of its new words is mansplain. Do you know what it means to mansplain? Oh, I missed what you said over the clinking of your earrings and the swish of your pretty hair.

Mansplaining is when a male human defines and deciphers something in question — usually to a female human — in a way that is tailored specifically to help her understand. Does that make sense to you? It’s like if a regular boy or a grown-ass man takes time to really detail a particular subject, with consideration for the listening party’s barriers to comprehension. For example — oh, you're familiar with mansplaining? Well, there are some more complex elements to consider here. Mansplaining is often characterized by repetition to ensure that the point has really has sunk in. I hope this all makes sense to you. Just let me know if you want me to go back and clarify. I can twist a snazzy metaphor, if you like analogies! 

Anyway, Oxford Dictionaries is making an attempt to validate the concept of mansplaining, by inserting the word into its already-expansive database. Don't worry though, this is not as hard as you might imagine! It's helpful, I find, to consider dictionaries like lists of definitions. But remember — even though they seem like staid, stodgy pillars of word traditions — they must expand. Languages evolve. It's a bit hard to wrap your mind around, but it's a rewarding mental exercise to consider your speech — yes, even yours, don't knock yourself down! — as part of the shifting transformation of human communication. 

The dictionary has attempted to define mansplain, but it's a touch reductive:

mansplain (v.): (of a man) explain something to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing

It's the important duty of dictionaries to put things simply, because a dictionary never really knows who it's helping, and a lot of people are quite dumb. But, mansplaining is so much more nuanced than indicated here. It involves a lot of barreling through, a lot of disregard for social cues. Most especially — no, wait, I think this last point will really help clarify things for you. Where was I? Oh yes, so mansplaining particularly requires ignoring any commentary from the listening party about their expertise, previous understanding, or general presence of baseline intelligence.

Have you followed me so far, sweetheart?