“FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu” has nothing to do with men or explaining.
So Mashable recently published an article with the headline “Japanese Twitter users figured out a polite way to mansplain,” which is itself a reaction to an article published by Kotaku about the expression “FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu.” Between Japan’s traditional ideas about gender roles and the stark difference in vocabulary and phrases used by men and women in speaking Japanese, Japanese society is often labeled as chauvinistic, but implying that “FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu” is used by people who want to “mansplain” (a sentiment expressed only in Mashable’s article, not Kotaku’s) is wrong on both fronts, since it carries no gender-related nuance and isn’t always necessarily coupled to an explanation.
Let’s take a look at the parts that make up the phrase. The FF in FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu (which is written in Japanese as FF外から失礼します） refers to Twitter followers and followees. Gai means “outside.” It’s the same gai as in gaijin, literally “outside person,” the Japanese word for “foreigner.” Kara means “from,” and, finally, shitsurei shimasu means “excuse me” or “pardon me.”
Put it all together, and all FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu means is “Pardon me for contacting you from outside of our Twitter follower lists.” It shows up all the time on viral tweet threads when a someone is replying to the person who sent the original tweet, but they don’t follow each other. While Japanese has plenty of unmistakably feminine and masculine grammar structures an vocabulary, FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu is gender-neutral, and you’ll see it used with equal frequency by male and female Twitter users, regardless of whether the reply is being sent to a man or woman.
FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu doesn’t have an inherent connection to the “’splaining” part of “mansplaining” either. The inclusion of the phrase is considered a polite courtesy whether you’re adding information of your own, asking a follow-up question, or even just voicing your reaction to the original tweet. As a matter of fact, Mashable’s own article includes the following example, which starts when Twitter user @doradai_friend tweets out his disappointment over some worthless loot he got in a mobile game.
かじきん☆ですとろい (@kajikin_0524) August 30, 2017
Fellow gamer @kajikin_0524 then proposes an in-game item trade. He starts his message with FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu before going on to say “I’ll give you a cutlass if you’ll give me a crystal,” before ending with another shitsurei shimashita or ”excuse me for bothering you.” As we can see, there’s no “explaining” at all going on in @kajikin_0524’s message.
Even if we’re not using “mansplaining” with its original implication of a man talking down to a woman, and just using it to mean any one person condescendingly conveying what they believe to be indisputable truths, FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu still doesn’t fit with the practice. The emotion behind FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu is the exact opposite of arrogance. It’s literally asking forgiveness for being so bold as to offer your thoughts or opinion.
So to reiterate, no, Japanese Twitter users did not figure out a polite way to mansplain. They simply figured out a polite way to communicate, and saddling that linguistic innovation with the “mansplaining” label is a misunderstanding of the mechanics behind it in multiple ways, and a disservice to the people who earnestly use it every day.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s laid back enough that he doesn’t mind if you skip the FF gai kara shitsurei shimasu.