Rex Murphy: 'Mike Pence was mansplaining,' and other things said by sore losers

Pence was accused of mansplaining all the way through, which, translated into everyday language, means simply that he won the debate

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It has always been hard to keep up with our ever-expanding and evolving language. It’s a truism that as soon as any brand new dictionary is published, it is already to some degree outdated. Everything new under the sun must have its own word, and in an age of computer technology and the wild expansion of knowledge, new words pop up all the time.

Of these, there are a few that I find troublesome, as they are either not faithful to what they are supposed to mean, or are invented for purely ideological or rhetorical purposes. They are more like jargon, or argot, used by a small subset of society, instead of being for all speakers.

I’m referring to the various neologisms that float out of academia, launched from the shipyards of feminist and assorted sexuality studies. Some of them are tiny, like “cis.” Others almost have the bulk of German nouns, like this one I recently encountered: “cisheteropatriarchal” (the meaning of which I was unwilling to take the time to decipher).

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Hardly any of them are elegant. They have a bristling, aggressive character. Despite this, some of them catch on outside the feminist conventicles of college campuses. Which is not surprising. There are many hard-left feminists in the news business, some even have explicit feminist beats, and these reporters naturally want to draw on the idioms, buzzwords and catchphrases of their highly specialized education.

One term that has made some purchase on even normal vocabulary got great exercise after the vice-presidential debate in the United States the other evening. I can’t say I watched it all (the fireplace channel was having a special — a new log loop), but I caught enough to know it was more or less a mild exchange, with none of the inspired feistiness of the presidential grapple.

As soon as it had ended, various commentators, the Twitter horde, the blogs and the panoply of our present-day communications services, were going on, in severely disparaging terms, about the gentlemanly Vice-President Mike Pence’s “mansplaining.” They clearly were not pleased with Pence’s decorous performance, and just as clearly thought that accusing him of “mansplaining” was a real winner of a rebuke.

Not being as up on the feminist lexicon as some others, I was actually a bit puzzled. Thinking that if Pence had explained any policy or program to his opponent, Kamala Harris, he had to do so in his character as a man. A person cannot wish away either his gender or his species. Surely, he couldn’t “fish-splain” or “cat-splain,” those avenues being closed to him as a human.

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Nonetheless, the commentators and critics thought they’d hit upon the most devastating put-down. They could only think so, however, if they bent the meaning of the word to their own prejudices, because “mansplaining” does not mean what many feminists rejoice in insisting it means.

Let me clear this matter up. I have consulted the best dictionaries and some of the most sagacious logophiles of my acquaintance. (I thought of calling Comrade Black, but did not wish to entoil him in any controversy that might follow.)

Let me then offer, based on my research, a bit of context to this term of art. First, we go with some neutral definition of its various applications:

Mansplaining (n.) the introduction of logic, facts or coherent argument in response to any overstatement, baseless assertion or tendentious claim from an academic or practising feminist.

This is the definition of mansplaining in its purest, neutral sense. To paraphrase, mansplaining is the act of any man calmly and correctly refuting the claims of any woman.

It has a more loaded context, however, where it is not purely denotative, but is actually a term of rhetoric, what I’d call a “combat” word, whose purposes is not to describe an exchange, but to put down one of the parties to it.

The definition for this application of the word is as follows:

Mansplaining. (n.) a derogatory term called up by feminist ideologues to vainly rebut the actual facts of any matter that, in those rare circumstances where a more intelligent man is debating a less intelligent woman, the man has indubitably presented the better argument. Or, any incontestably superior male response to any inferior female argument.

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This is the classic deployment of the term, which we saw in the reaction to the Pence-Harris debate. Pence was accused of mansplaining all the way through, which, translated into everyday language, means simply that he won the debate.

So there you have it. I hope I have demystified (another favourite term from the academy) mansplaining and shown that it is a verbalism of last resort used by sore losers and inadequate debaters. If any should be so mischievous as to colour this column as itself a model of mansplaining, I will simply offer prayers for her recovery.

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