I'm looking for a short commonly used phrase with meaning "very simple, straightforward, without unnecessary details, with basic terminology" in context of explanation of some idea or phenomena. It may be an idiom or a catch phrase, the main requirement is being widely used and understood by everyone. For example, in Russian there is an idiom "объяснить на пальцах" (literally "explain on/with fingers"), it is used to explain complex subjects with simple terms and examples ("fingers").

My first idea was "for dummies" from the book series title, but as far as I know this phrase usually used for new topics, and it is not really used for rehearsal education. Another idea came from "Simple English Wikipedia", but I'm not sure if phrase "explain in simple English" is really widespread.

  • What's the context, Zeliboba? In what situation do you want to use this phrase? Some phrases might work in some situations but not in others.
    – Barque
    May 22 at 14:20
  • 'A basic guide to ...', but watch out for copyrights. May 22 at 15:15
  • @EdwinAshworth You're thinking of "a bluffer's guide to X". :)
    – tchrist
    May 23 at 1:30
  • Explain it like I'm 5. May 23 at 2:19
  • @Barque, I need it for use in the context of explanation to students of any kind. For example, when teaching a course in university one may need to refresh student's knowledge from a previous course, which some of them forgot or did not even attend. And such a "refreshment" expected to be short and clear, possibly with references to more detailed explanation, but without deviation from the main course.
    – zeliboba
    May 25 at 6:37

3 Answers 3


for the layman / in layman's terms


break it down [for me]


  • Who can explain [technical term] in layman's terms?

  • Yes, that's the technical definition, good. Can you also break it down for us without using jargon from the _________ field?

  • I'm an ideal candidate for this remedial math teaching position because I'm very good at breaking down math concepts in simple terms for the more math phobic students.

  • I like your second proposal, I met it quite often among non-native speakers (e.g. "Let me break it down for you"). It would be nice to have more examples of use in narrative sentence, a link or reference is fine.
    – zeliboba
    May 25 at 6:47
  • @zeliboba -added another example May 25 at 15:08

You could say

in words of one syllable

from Farlex

In simple terms that are easy to understand. (Usually implying that the listener is unintelligent.)

I don't understand financial derivatives—can you explain them in words of one syllable?


English 101 could work:

101 is more common in AmE than BrE but it is understood in both.

101 (slang) From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

101 (pronounced ONE-oh-ONE) is a slang term for the most basic knowledge in some subject, as in "boiling potatoes is cooking 101".


The slang sense of the number "101" originates from its frequent use in US college course numbering systems to indicate the first or introductory course in some topic of study, such as "Calculus 101" or "French 101".

Also OED:

101, adj. North American (originally U.S.).

As postmodifier: designating an introductory course at U.S. colleges or universities in the subject specified. In extended use (chiefly humorous): designating the basic or elementary facts or knowledge associated with the field or subject specified.

1929 Univ. Buffalo Bull. 1 Dec. 24 (table) Course..General Science 101–102... Hrs. Weekly..3.

2002 Toronto Star (Nexis) 9 Feb. l03 Learn how to write erotica or get Sexuality One-oh-One advice.

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