1364: Like I'm Five

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Like I'm Five
'Am I taking care of you? I have a thesis to write!' 'My parents are at their house; you visited last--' 'No, no, explain like you're five.'
Title text: 'Am I taking care of you? I have a thesis to write!' 'My parents are at their house; you visited last--' 'No, no, explain like you're five.'


Megan tells Cueball that she is working on her math thesis. A thesis consists of original research and generally deals with material that is difficult for the uninitiated to understand. Cueball anticipates that it will be difficult to understand, and asks her to "explain it like I'm five". "Explain it like I'm five" is a way of asking for a simpler explanation of some difficult topic, in a way that a five-year-old child would be able to understand. Megan sarcastically (or perhaps not) treats Cueball as if he is an actual 5-year-old without his parents, expressing her concern that a 5-year-old is without any supervision. This is an example of idiomatic language being taken literally, something that Randall has explored in other comics as well, such as 1454: Done.

In the title text, Megan feigns concern that she will have to abandon her work to take care of this supposed lost child and takes this role-playing further by refusing to respond to Cueball until he phrases his comments as a 5-year-old would.

The common expression "Explain it like I'm five" is inspired by a line by Groucho Marx in his movie Duck Soup. "Why a four-year-old child could understand this report! Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can't make head or tail of it."[1]


Cueball: What've you been up to?
Megan: Doing tons of math for my thesis.
Cueball: Can you explain it like I'm five?
Megan: "Oh my god, where are your parents?"

External links

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I bet this comic was at least partly inspired by Randall's writing for this week's what-if, in which he's answering a question posed by a 4 1/2 year old, and does indeed seem to be attempting to explain to someone of that age. 04:39, 6 May 2014 (UTC)

Almost certainly a reference to this. 05:58, 5 May 2014 (UTC)

I actually do something like this, though I never heard of the Reddit thing or the above page. 06:46, 5 May 2014 (UTC)

The alt text leads into me imagining them both "being" 5 and start arguing in a very childish way. I think that's a part of the alt joke. 08:59, 5 May 2014 (UTC)

I read it as a pun on "parens". As in the equations being so complicated it's hard to tell which parentheses belong together. 12:04, 5 May 2014 (UTC)

But those parentheses are only in your mind. The thesis could very well be about Psychology or Latin. 14:24, 5 May 2014 (UTC)
Well, Megan is "doing tons of maths for (her) thesis", so's idea can be right. 07:24, 6 May 2014 (UTC)

I did remove this statement: "possibly originating from an episode of Psych)". Maybe someone can give a better prove; the explain still needs some enhancements. --Dgbrt (talk) 19:31, 5 May 2014 (UTC)

Does this remind anyone else of 547? Except that xkcd argued the opposite (that simplified explanations are beneficial). I'd assume that this means there is a happy middle ground between offering simple, accessible explanations and dumbing things down to the level needed for a 5 year old to understand. S (talk) 23:02, 5 May 2014 (UTC)

The reddit thread has high traffic *after* this xkcd comic? The xkcd comic is *based* on reddit's ELI5 (Explain like I'm 5) subreddit, which has been around for ages! Langusto (talk) 05:35, 6 May 2014 (UTC)

So please show me the traffic before this comic. Is there any link to the initial post? I can't find. --Dgbrt (talk) 19:29, 6 May 2014 (UTC)
The traffic before this comic can be seen using ELI5's "next" button, or for example search for "heartbleed". There are loads of threads with huge traffic from the last two years. That's what this xkcd comic is about. I don't know what the "initial post" was, but this is a subreddit, not a forum thread. Langusto (talk) 05:26, 9 May 2014 (UTC)
I'm sorry, but just give me one single link on that site on this topic which was posted before this comic. Browsing that reddit is still really like nerd sniping, so please give a prove that this thread is older then this comic we are talking about. --Dgbrt (talk) 21:24, 9 May 2014 (UTC)
That's funny, when I search I get not one but *thirteen* threads from the last month. I can't prove anything, but do your own search of the ELI5 subreddit for literally anything and you'll get a bunch of threads from up to 2 years ago. Search for 'gravity', search for 'magnet', search for 'television' (all within the ELI5 subreddit). Langusto (talk) 06:34, 11 May 2014 (UTC)
I still can't see any relevant posts belonging to this comic's topic. Reddit is chaos, most posts are off-topic, and the matter of this comic was not seriously discussed there. And even the first page at Gooogle for "ELI5" isn't very helpful on further investigations. For me it is still clear that the current traffic belongs to this comic while former posts do not belong to this matter mostly. --Dgbrt (talk) 21:04, 12 May 2014 (UTC)
I don't know why you're having so much difficulty with a simple search of ELI5. "This comic's topic" is explain like I'm 5. Reddit's explainlikeimfive subreddit is two years old. Search within the ELI5 subreddit for 2012. Like for example ELI5's "The Best of 2012: Contest Winners". Are all those "explainlikeimfive" threads in 2012 due to this xkcd comic in 2014, in your opinion? Langusto (talk) 06:00, 13 May 2014 (UTC)
The problem seems to be that Dgbrt doesn't know how to find ELI5. Here it is. It's existed for a long time. Randall is very aware of reddit's existence, as he's shown with previous comics. (Directly mentioning it, criticizing its upvoting method of displaying comments, having a sort-of AMA. 00:40, 23 November 2014 (UTC)

Why is it not mentioned that this comic is *based* on reddit's ELI5 (Explain like I'm 5) subreddit? It is pretty clear that it existed long before this comic. Proof of its popularity (as I see the discussion above), could be the youtube series done by the reddit, named (suprise, suprise) "Explain like i'm five". The videos are submitted in march 2013, but I'm pretty sure they didn't get the idea in one day and filmed everything on the other. 03:32, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

I completely rewrote the explanation. Can this be closed now? 13:50, 7 August 2014 (UTC)

No.The explain and the title text still need some more rework. --Dgbrt (talk) 23:35, 7 August 2014 (UTC)

Different from the explain, I first got the impression that Megan's response is because the math is so hard that Cueball would be scared from it and would want his parents. I may be completely wrong, though... 00:04, 11 November 2015 (UTC)