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How do you ask someone to explain something in very simple words, understandable by everyone from general public? In Russia we say something, that can be translated like "explain on fingers". What's the correct English for this?

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Honestly, "explain it in simple terms" is a perfectly good way to say this. – JSBձոգչ Apr 19 '11 at 13:12
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Could you put that in layman's terms?


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Thanks. That's exactly what I've forgotten and couldn't bring back to my mind – Vladislav Rastrusny Apr 19 '11 at 12:18
@FractalizeR You're welcome. As you are Russian, would you perhaps consider joining this SE proposal: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/10848/… – z7sg Ѫ Apr 19 '11 at 12:53
I will, thanks ;) As soon as one of my commitments start. I've wasted all three already. – Vladislav Rastrusny Apr 19 '11 at 16:39

For clarity, some of the phrases given as answers have more of an "explain it succinctly," than an "explain it simply" connotation. Others have more of a give me the essentials meaning. Here's some more of each (there is some overlap):

give me the quick and dirty
give me the Reader's Digest version
what's the TL;DR?

draw me a picture
spell it out for me
break it down for me
make it plain

get down to the nitty gritty
get to the meat and potatoes
get down to brass tacks
give me the nuts and bolts
"Just the facts, ma'am"

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You forgot my personal favorite, "dumb it down for me." :P – kitukwfyer Apr 19 '11 at 17:26
@kitukwfyer: Good one. I was afraid I'd miss an obvious one. – Callithumpian Apr 19 '11 at 18:38
Great list! :-) – Kristina Lopez Nov 21 '12 at 2:27

You could say

Give me the CliffsNotes.

CliffsNotes are short synopses of longer literary works, usually used by students who don't want to read a whole work

Or you could try:

Give me the elevator pitch.

This is used in business a lot. The idea is that you are asking someone to pretend that they happen to get on an elevator with a prime customer and they only have the time between when the doors close and they open on the customer's floor to sell him on a product or an idea.

I especially like the phrase Denzel Washington's character used again and again in the film Philadelphia:

Joe Miller: Now, explain it to me like I'm a four-year-old.

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If speaking to someone you are comfortable with you could ask them to "explain it in twenty five words or less". This is quite informal.

Otherwise you could ask for something to be explained "in simple terms".

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... in words of one syllable.

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protected by tchrist Nov 2 '15 at 11:02

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