Japanese mansplaining

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[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

This came across the transom:

"Your Global Mansplaining Dictionary In 34 Languages"

The Japanese in this "handy crowdsourced linguistic guide to a universal blight" is a bit off, as I'll mansplain below, and I'd love to know how the LL hivemind sees the other languages.

横柄な男の解説 (ōhei na otoko no kaisetsu) = “patronizing man’s explanation," as it says, but:

1. 横柄 is rare enough in conversation that I can't recall ever encountering it, though I definitely have heard it "mis-"pronounced as yokogara occasionally.

A more likely term for the patronizing aspect of mansplaining would be 上から目線で (ue kara mesen de), i.e. "looking down upon." I have also seen "mansplainer" rendered as 上から目線の男性  (ue kara mesen no dansei) or 上から目線男 (ue kara mesen otoko), which comports with my understanding.

The same meaning is produced in reverse by the verb 見下す (mikudasu), lit. "to look down upon," and I have seen that used in describing mansplaining as well.

偉そうに (erasō ni), meaning something like "self-importantly," seems equally likely.

HuffPost Japan combines the two in its definition (translated from an English HuffPost article):

Mansupurēningu to wa, dansei ga erasō ni josei o mikudashinagara nani ka o kaisetsu / jogen suru koto
"Mansplaining is when men self-importantly look down on women and explain something or give advice."

Another candidate floating around the intertubes at least is 知ったかぶり(shittakaburi), an adjective akin to "sciolistic" in English and describing someone at the peak of the Dunning-Kruger effect's infamous "Mt. Stupid" of maximum ignorance and confidence. The venerable women's magazine Fujin kōron (Women's Review), offers the following translation for "I really don’t need you to mansplain that to me" in its "Teatime English" column (on the classist implications of which, no comment):

Anata no shittakaburi ni unzari yo
"I'm fed up with your know-it-all-ness."

and defines mansplain as:

Shittakabutta (perfect-tense of shittakaburi) otoko no setsumei (the vanilla translation for "explanation")

This is listed as 教養 (kyōyō, general)-level as opposed to 専門家 (senmonka, specialist)-level English.

The column is, with no apparent sense of irony, written by a youngish white man, and accompanied by a smug headshot captioned, "Let's Try!" I suppose I hardly need to tell you, Dear Reader, that I simultaneously giggled, sighed, facepalmed, and threw up in my mouth a little.  

2. 解説 is fine, but 説教 (sekkyō) captures the annoying "preachiness" of mansplaining better imho. It was used in the translation of Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me (説教したがる男たち, Sekkyō shitagaru otokotachi, lit., "men who like / want to explain things"). Solnit is credited with the first known use of mansplain in print. Fujin kōron's 説明 is unadventurous.

As usual, though, it seems that Japanese has widely settled on the katakana (マンスプレイニング, in this case), so these various translations are mostly ancillary.

Still, when I Googled マンスプレイニング 偉そう (Mansupureiningu era-sō), "mainsplaining looks proud / great / conceited"), Prof. Google suggested I might want to add 撃退 (gekitai), "fight off / repel." So it's pretty clear that everyone understands what mansplaining means, however it's translated.


Selected readings


  1. Bathrobe said,

    September 13, 2020 @ 6:49 pm

    Interesting, although not surprising, that マンスプレイニング has made it into Japanese.

    All those Japanese expressions are familiar to me, although I would apply them to a wider context than mansplaining. But when you come down to it, I guess 偉そうに 'thinks s/he's important' 知ったかぶり 'thinks s/he knows' etc. are overwhelmingly the sort of attitude you would expect from men.

    I'm surprised that you've never heard ōhei. When I lived in Japan I heard it many, many times, usually in the combination 横柄な態度 ōhei na taido 'an arrogant, overbearing attitude'.

  2. Jim Breen said,

    September 13, 2020 @ 7:08 pm

    Most if not all of the use of マンスプレイニング I have seen in Japanese has been in the context of explaining the meaning of the English term "mansplaining". WIth my lexicographer's hat on, I'm a bit reluctant to accept that it's really being used *in* Japanese.

  3. Bathrobe said,

    September 13, 2020 @ 7:57 pm

    overwhelmingly the sort of attitude you would expect from men

    Upon reflection, probably not. They could also be used as putdowns for uppity women…

  4. Bathrobe said,

    September 13, 2020 @ 8:04 pm

    To clarify, 横柄 ōhei was for me such a commonly encountered spoken expression that I didn't even know how to write it. I think I assumed that ō was written 大. Seeing 横柄 is so unfamiliar that I would probably read it as yokogara, too.

  5. Kim said,

    September 13, 2020 @ 8:30 pm

    I would disagree with the suggestion that 説教 better captures the phrase. To me, mansplaining isn’t really a scolding/ear bashing.

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    September 14, 2020 @ 3:07 am

    « The column is, with no apparent sense of irony, written by a youngish white man, and accompanied by a smug headshot captioned, "Let's Try!" ».

    When I first looked at the photograph, I saw an androgynous woman. And having read Victor's analysis thereof, I looked again, and I still see an androgynous woman (the glossy lipstick and accompanying smile are one cue to this interpretation). What do others see ?

  7. Luke said,

    September 14, 2020 @ 3:58 am

    I see it as a man, the lipstick and long hair is throwing me off but everything else to me seems like a man.

  8. John Swindle said,

    September 14, 2020 @ 7:14 am

    If you want to try it on with them, and if their biological or cultural gender* is important for that, then you'll probably have to ask them.

    *gender: A very old euphemism for sex that (a) serves to differentiate it from, you know, sexual intercourse and (b) may trigger language peeving in those who are susceptible.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    September 14, 2020 @ 7:15 am

    The "Adam's apple" may provide some guidance — is it sufficiently pronounced in this image to suggest that this is a man, albeit one wearing lipstick and affecting a very female-like smile ?

  10. bks said,

    September 14, 2020 @ 7:44 am

    @Philip Taylor –This one's for you:

  11. Alex R said,

    September 14, 2020 @ 11:50 am

    The author of the column's given name is Luke, and uses masculine pronouns 僕【ぼく】on their website, so I would assume they present as masculine and prefer to be referred to by male pronouns in English unless they indicated they’d prefer it otherwise.

  12. Rosemary Kuwahata said,

    September 15, 2020 @ 3:53 am

    I recently came across the expression 「上の目線から」in a report of a discussion about a dispute among men representing various companies. In this context, it oozes arrogance and haughtiness. How does this work between men? I am working from Japanese to English. 'Mansplain' cannot be used in such context.

  13. Rodger C said,

    September 15, 2020 @ 7:10 am

    @Rosemary Kuwahata: I'd guess from the first character (one of the few I spontaneously recognize) that this is what American men call a "one-up contest."

  14. NSBK said,

    September 15, 2020 @ 9:04 am

    In English, the term I'd use for the spectacle of men trying to out-do one another in some way is "pissing contest" or "dick-measuring contest".

  15. Nathan Hopson said,

    September 15, 2020 @ 5:12 pm

    @Bathrobe, thank you for your comment. That's very interesting that you encountered 横柄 so often. Perhaps this is a difference of context? My experience in Japan is in small business and academia and all outside Tokyo and Osaka, for example, an all post-bubble. Maybe that experience is too atypical? If be curious to know in what context you encountered the word.

  16. Josh R said,

    September 15, 2020 @ 8:50 pm

    上から目線 (ue kara no mesen) is not particularly gendered as such*, but in the "vertically structured society" of Japan (縦社会 tate-shakai), refers to someone acting/speaking as if they are in a higher status position, when in fact they are in a equal or lower position, or outside a hierarchical relationship altogether. Depending on the context, English equivalents would be "smug," "condescending," "patronizing," or "imperious."

    *By which I mean it is a phrase relating only to interpersonal status, and thus is used between men, between women, and between men and women. But, given the historical cultural status difference between men and women, it would be naive to suggest that there isn't a certain gender valence when used between men and women. A man talking to a women with "ue kara no mesen" could very well be mansplaining, while a women justifiably giving her opinion or criticism could very well be considered by others as talking with "ue kara no mesen", when a man in the same position would not be.

  17. Bathrobe said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 8:18 am

    To be honest, I don't remember exactly where I encountered it. Possibly when I was working for a company but I can't be sure at all. It was definitely a term of criticism, usually — at least in my recollection — carrying tones of anger at the person it was used about. Someone might even have used it about me, but I don't even remember that :)

  18. Tanja said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 9:05 am

    The Finnish version is also extremely rare and sounds like someone was determined to coin an overlapping blend (miesitelmä < mies 'man' + esitelmä 'presentation'), even though we've already got the more transparently formed miesselittäminen < mies 'man' + selittäminen 'explaining'.

  19. rosie said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 5:48 am

    @John Swindle Seeing as you misuse the word "gender", what you call "language peeving" is a natural result. "Biological gender" is a contradiction in terms. The biological concept really is sex, not gender. And if an individual can have a cultural gender, who knows how that is supposed to be determined. Everyone's entitled to their own gender, or the absence of one, regardless of culture or of changes in it.

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