In Italian, when somebody speaks using words that are too erudite, too formal, or too complicated for the context, we say parla come mangi (literally, speak as you eat).

What phrase should I use in English which is understood to have a similar meaning?

Imagine I ask somebody how to do something, and that person gives an answer that uses too technical words when the answer could simply be Click the red button.
Which expression could I use to mean use a simpler vocabulary?

If there is any difference between American English and British English, I am interested in hearing them.

  • 5
    "K.I.S.S." - Keep it simple, stupid. Or "And in English that would be--?" Both, however, may be more sarcastic than you want. Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 16:12
  • The Italian expression is not mean to be taken too seriously. The second phrase reminds me of E tradotto in italiano, che vuol dire? ("Translated in Italian, what does that mean?") said to who said something in Italian.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 16:27
  • 2
    Is not it an act/a talk by a La-di-da? Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 16:32
  • 1
    @user37324 "Well, la-di-da!" is excellent: it suggests pretentiousness, that the other speaker is pretending to be someone he or she is not. Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 16:35
  • 1
    @user37324 That question should go to ELU; but here is an interesting discussion. Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 18:19

5 Answers 5


When someone is trying to explain a concept and use terms that are far too technical for the average person to understand (like your excellent "click the red button" example!) they are often asked to "Speak in layman's terms". They're being asked to stop using technical jargon, and explain the concept in terms most people will understand. This is a very common expression, and I believe the one you are looking for!

  • ...or "Please put that in layman's terms."
    – Adam
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 15:50

A common request when one actually wants to hear a simpler version is, “Can you please say that in words of one syllable?”

Slightly less common, and with a touch of sarcasm, is “Can you please say that in English?”

Still more rare is “What's wrong with your throat?”. In Robin and the 7 Hoods, various characters say “He's got something wrong with his throat” whenever Alan A. Dale (Bing Crosby's character) speaks eruditely but obscurely.

  • Another variant of the "What's wrong with your throat?" joke is to say "Gesundheit" (a loanword from German said after a sneeze) or "Bless you!" after they say a word with too many syllables or give an overly-verbose explanation. This one is popular with Looney Tunes shorts, if my childhood memory serves me. The joke is that their speech was so unintelligible to you that it might as well have been a sneeze.
    – Crazy Eyes
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 18:15

A popular and informal way to make this request is "explain it like I'm five," as in "explain this to me as if I were 5 years old." There's a Subreddit based on the phrase: http://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/


I don't take this to be merely a request to speak in simple terms. I take the eating part to mean the quality of food such as nicer cuts of prime steak vs chuck. And if one eats humbly their speech shouldn't pretend otherwise. So I would say a close English equivalent is "don't put on airs."

  • 2
    I think this is an interesting interpretation. I'm not sure "put on airs" is what I would use when someone is speaking too technically. Humble speech doesn't mean the same thing as "use a simpler vocabulary" to me. It has more to do with not having an arrogant tone. It's closely related to speaking too technically though, because using very formal language inappropriately and saying something with less common vocabulary is a way to "put on airs".
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 16:06
  • @ColleenV is correct: In Italian, parla come mangi is used when somebody is speaking too technically. It's not used to mean that a person used to Nouvelle cuisine should speak at an equivalent level.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Mar 28, 2021 at 11:32

I've heard and used variations of the expression, "If you ask him for the time, he will tell you how to build a clock." A more succinct example: "I asked for the time. He built me a clock." Management consultants are often accused of this.

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