Sight Beyond Sight – A Commentary on “Mansplaining and more…”

Are you familiar with the conversational phenomenon known as mansplaining? If you have never heard of it, here is a working definition of it:

Mansplaining can be when someone who has lesser or incomplete knowledge on a subject offers an explanation to someone with greater knowledge of the subject under the assumption that the person does not get it.For example, if I were to try to explain what it is like to be pregnant to my wife who is pregnant, that could be considered mansplaining. Of course, I think it is a little harsh to just put that tendency on men as the word implies. And I will mansplain why that it is.

First of all men are not the only people who have a tendency to do that. Anyone can quote mansplain unquote under any circumstance when they are not willing to admit that there knowledge is incomplete. That being said, as a former linguist, I love it when people create new words to articulate a concept that previously had no way of being encapsulated in a single term. I particularly like it when the words are mashups—that is, taking two or more concepts and creating something new with it.

One of the things I learned when I was studying Mandarin was that most of the words in the Chinese language are mashups. For example, one of the words for explain in Mandarin is shuoming 说明. It is comprised of the words for say and bright. And the word bright itself is composed of the words that mean sun and moon.

To break it down more, from the linguistic perspective the Chinese concept of explaining assumes that the person to whom you are explaining will be enlightened or made brighter by what you say. If that is not the case, then you have not accurately explained anything.

Now, in Mandarin, if someone wanted to acknowledge that they’ve understood what you have attempted to explain, the will say 我明白 Wo mingbai. Mingbai is a mashup of the previously mentioned word for bright and the word for white. When the person responds to your explanation this way, they are essentially saying, “I am enlightened by what you just shared.” Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Contrary to this, -splaining something does not enlighten the receiver and often time it infuriates them. This is true regardless of how the person identifies. In fact, just as –gate from Watergate gets affixed on anything we consider scandalous, -splain now gets added to any explanation that is perceived as being condescending to the person to whom it is directed. So now, we have terms like leftsplaining and rightsplaining, blacksplaining and whitesplaining—all of which point to the fact that the splainer is not willing to admit the limits of their knowledge or the negative effects it might have on creating meaning and mutually edifying and enlightening dialogue.

To hear more on this, watch the video below

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