¿Te lo explico con plastilina?

Did you catch the play on words in my last post’s title? I grilled three friends on it, and none of them got the allusion. Hmm. I’m generally a person devoid of snark, but for the sake of education I’m going to employ some major snark right now and use a Colombian phrase that’s apropos: ¿Te lo explico con plastilina? Should I break it down for you using Play-Doh? Would some clay figures help you get it? Do I need to spell it out for you? Here, see if this helps.

Amanecer for all seasons

Get it? A man . . . amanecer. Ahhhhh, ya caigo. We see what you did there, Vocabat. Nothing ingenious–I know–but not too shabby either, right?

Now, back to the phrase of the day: ¿Te lo explico con plastilina? Plastilina is putty-like modeling clay. Its official translation to English is Plasticine®, but I’d never heard that word before. I guess I should have, though. Plasticine is what clay animation features like Wallace and Gromit, and Gumby are made with. There’s also a reference to Plasticine in the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Picture yourself on a train in a station,
With Plasticine porters with looking-glass ties.

In Spanish, the word plastilina is also frequently used for Play-Doh, even though there’s a world of a difference to the discerning fingers and noses of children. Play-Doh has a base of flour, salt, and water; is totally edible; and it hardens. Plasticine, on the other hand, is derived from clay and is oil-based. It’s not edible, and it never gets hard. In some countries Play-Doh is known as just that: Play-Doh. 


Explicar algo con plastilina, then, means to have to explain things in very basic terms to those who might be a little slow on the uptake. To put things so simply that even a child could understand. It’s like when we say, Do you want me to draw you a picture? in English, though you can also say ¿Te lo dibujo? in Spanish.

It appears that explicar algo con plastilina is a Colombian phrase, with possibly some usage in Venezuela as well. Thanks to the internet, I now possess an equivalent phrase: it looks like explicar algo con manzanas expresses the same idea in some other countries. Personally, if I was having trouble grasping something–say, how the Federal Reserve works–I’d much rather have it explained to me via Play-Doh than apples. More power to you, though, if you could look at the cross-section of an apple and instantly understand monetary policy.

Ese tipo no entiende que no quiero nada con él, toca explicarle con plastilina.

That guy just doesn’t get that I’m not interested in him; you have to come out and make everything so obvious to him.

¿Quedó claro o tocará explicarte con plastilina?

Does that make sense, or do I need to dumb it down for you?

Bob Willey explica con plastilina el posmodernismo.

Bob Willey explains postmodernism to us in layman’s terms.

I learned this phrase in Bogotá from my friend Carolina, who currently lives in Tokyo. She grew up in the U.S., and she had a time of it trying to learn Spanish when she moved to Colombia 10+ years ago. She told me that she would have to ask ¿Cómo? ¿Cómo? ¿Cómo? so many times that her friends would gently tease her and say, ¿Te lo explicamos con plastilina? In anticipation of these insincere, smart-aleck offers, I would love to carry around a small tub of Play-Doh in my purse. Then, when I inevitably draw a blank at some point in a conversation, I could take out the Play-Doh, hand it to the other person, and say, ¿Dizque guarilaque? Qué pena, pero no sé qué demonios querrá decir eso. ¿Será que me lo puedes explicar con plastilina? Or when they say, ¿En serio que no sabes qué significa eso? ¿Te lo explico con plastilina?, I’d whip it out and say, Bien pueda. Hágale. Their expression would be so priceless.

11 responses to “¿Te lo explico con plastilina?

  1. Love the play-doh can in the purse! Here in the south I heard what would probably be the best equivalent:”Here, let me take out the big crayons and draw it out for you.” Columbian sarcasm is starting to look a lot like Cuban sarcasm.


  2. I’ve never heard this phrase! Maybe because I grew up in the U.S?


    • Oh, Jisel! You’ve been deprived! Well, it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing parents or grandparents would say to their kids, so maybe that’s why. You and I should go back down and load up on snark and sarcasm, Colombian style. I was once told that my Spanish is perfect (¡ya quisiera yo!), solo que me falta malicia. O sea, I’m not good at being mean in Spanish. Far too docile and mousy, which is NOT the real me! I want to learn to be really sassy in Spanish, like a true Latina.


      • I think my Spanish is stuck sometime in the late 1970s when my parents came here. There is an entire world of slang and new expressions I have no idea about. I guess my Spanish is sadly formal And elderly.


        • There are a lot of things much worse than elderly Spanish, believe me. Though I do chuckle at the thought of you going around saying, No le hagas caso a mi español, es una viejita– Don’t mind my Spanish; she’s an old lady. It’s hard for us non-natives to speak our age. (I know you’re a native, but you know what I mean.)


  3. I really like your writing


  4. Y tambien tu manera de expresarte:)


  5. Pingback: Little chicken hearts | Vocabat

  6. Pingback: Chespirito | Vocabat

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