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Comprehension: ¿Me Entiendes, o Me Explico?

A brief summary of two phrases in Spanish that, on the surface, intend to verify understanding but may come across as fake humility

Spanish Pinpointed

Some while ago, an exercise by BBC Mundo showed the most annoying expression across the Spanish speaking world as being “¿me entiendes?” —do you understand me?— which certain speakers will inject into their conversation when trying to make a point.

One similar expression, “¿me explico? —am I explaining myself?, or am I making myself clear?— is fairly common in Mexico, and particularly galling.

Like its counterpart “¿me entiendes?,” “¿me explico?” comes across as speaking down to the listener, with the added poison of fake humility.  Both carry the  implication that any failure to comprehend (and of course agree) is caused by the faulty intellect of the receiver.

The online discussion at BBC Mundo brought to mind MAD magazine’s series of snappy answers to stupid questions.

These annoying inserts are usually rhetorical and don’t require a response, although using one of the following replies to “¿me explico?” can throw the speaker off for a second, elicit a puzzled look, cause him (o ella, ¿me entiendes?) to lose the thread of the commentary, and sooth the injured self-esteem of the listener:

  • 1. “No.
  • 2. “Sí por favor.
  • 3. “Sí, pero no entiendo.
  • 4. “No sé, ¿te explicas?

The problem with this is that it assumes the listener is as sensitive as the speaker is insensitive and feels insulted by what is most likely an inadvertent use of a phrase, in which case it would be better to just get over it—supéralo, o sea.

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