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?