This is a word for an annoying thing that some guys do with their legs in crowded public seating such as on the subway or bus.

The word may not be morphologically perspicuous, so let me ’splain; once I have unfolded the source of it, it should grow some legs. It’s not to do with some man’s playing – well, it may in what it refers to, but not necessarily, and that’s not where it comes from. What this is is a pun on mainsplaining. It takes the splain and replaces it with splay. As in splay your legs wide. While seated on public transit next to people whose space you are thereby invading. And displaying the lump of your junk for all to try not to see.

I should say what mansplaining is, in case it’s unfamiliar to you: it’s when a man patronizingly explains something to a woman that the woman is actually in a better position to know about. “No, no, no,” says the smug wide old suit to the folded-arms young woman standing before him, “you really don’t understand what feminism is. Let me explain…” And so it goes. It’s an unpleasant word for an unpleasant thing.

Why an unpleasant word? Well, I find it ungainly because it doesn’t have any real pun or play to it. What it does do, though, is illustrate how the underlying parts of explain (from Latin ex plus planare) have become generally unknown and the word is treated as dividing at the syllable boundary, which happens to be right in the middle of the letter x: /ek spleɪn/. Which also goes to show that the spoken form is still the primary form, influence it though the written form may.

So anyway, we remove that splain from mansplain and replace it with splay. That’s a much better formed word, right? Hee hee. Actually, it’s exactly the same sort of thing as splain. You see, it’s a trimmed form of display. Now, we think of display as meaning ‘put on show’, but originally it meant ‘unfold, expand, unfurl’ – the same as splay still means (though splay tends to have connotations of awkwardness or ungracefulness, like a baby moose on wet ice). This is because it comes from Latin displicare, ‘unfold’ – which is also the origin of the modern Italian word for ‘explain’, spiegare. Consider the implications! (Oh, yes, implications also has the same plic ‘fold’ root.)

So anyway, these guys sit down next to you on the bus (and they’ll do this next to men as well as women) and splay their legs wide like the ungainliest ostrich, so that they’re invading and displaying, and the people next to them are scrunching their legs over so as to avoid contact as much as possible. It’s not just a transit thing, either. Aina and I went to a short outdoor folk dance performance last year where a larger older guy (I won’t call him a gentleman) sat down next to her and spread his legs about 110˚ wide, completely invading her space while he directed his attention in the other direction. I was about ready to get a nice, sharp butcher knife and joint him like a turkey.

I suspect if Aina had tried to tell him about decent public manners, he would have mansplained something to her. And in the next minute would have been on sale at the butchers’ down the block for 99¢ a pound.

I guess what I’m saying is: Don’t do it.

3 responses to “mansplaying

  1. When I was in my 20s, newly arrived in NYC, I was TERRIFIED of riding the Subways, but I just white-knuckled it. It was part of How Things Are Done Here.

    Anyhow, one day I was riding home on the A-Train after a particularly bad day at my New Job. Back in the day when we had straight bench seats, with no built-in “buckets”. I was calmly reading my newspaper (The _NY TIMES_, of course), but I was being extra careful not to impose on anybody else’s personal space, carefully folding the non-tabloid pages and reading quietly.

    All of a sudden, this HARPY next to me shrieks, “Why do YOU MEN always sit with your LEGS SO WIDE? There ain’t so space for other people!”

    I did a double-take, since I was primly sitting with my knees together (as all young Gentlemen of Breeding are taught). Then my recently acquired New Yorker genes kicked in:

    I said, very calmly, “My knees are together, Madam. If you don’t have enough room, perhaps the problem is with your FAT ASS!”

    She got off at the next stop.

  2. Wut?
    What IS that? Waht abt te menz!!!?
    Get over it, if fat people EVER invade your space on a daily basis as much as any woman’s space is, on a daily basis, everywhere she goes, I might have an iota of sympathy.
    But, add that to the fat shaming and I’m calling you out, for an immature douche.

  3. Oh and misogynistic descriptors such as “harpy”?, as well as fat shaming? Seriously.

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