'In Layman's Terms:’ Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on November 25, 2023

Have you ever wondered what the expression 'in layman's terms' means? If so, you're in the right place. In this article, we'll explore the meaning of this common idiom, its origins, and how to use it in a sentence.

If you're just here to find out what it means, here's the short version:

  • To explain something in layman's terms means to explain it in such a way that anyone can understand it, even if they don't work in a specific industry.

What Does 'In Layman's Terms' Mean?

When someone says, "Can you explain that in layman's terms?" or "Let me put this in layman's terms," they are asking for or offering a simplified explanation without technical jargon or complex language.

The opposite of explaining something in layman's terms would be to explain it using jargon, which is technical terminology specific to an industry. For example, 'phishing' is an example of computing jargon. It refers to email scams that aim to obtain your personal information.

  • The idiom 'in layman's terms' is used to request or provide an explanation that is easy for the average person, someone without specialized knowledge in a particular field, to understand.

Imagine, for instance, that you've taken your car to the garage, and the engineer explains the problem to you, but they use lots of technical jargon that you don't understand.

You might ask:

Can you explain it in layman's terms because I don't know much about cars.

Something explained this way is something everyone can understand, regardless of their background or career choices.

Top Tip! Many are calling for more inclusive, non-gendered language, and as such, you might see the term 'layperson' being used instead of 'layman's.'

Where Does 'In Layman's Terms' Come From?

The phrase 'in layman's terms' has been used for centuries. The word 'layman' originally referred to a person who was not a member of the clergy or, in other words, didn't work in a religious profession. So, whenever conversations were being had amongst clergy members, if non-clergy professionals were present, they would avoid religious jargon.

Later, the term evolved to refer to people who were uneducated, so the idea was to simplify the way you talk or 'dumb it down' so you could be understood when you were speaking to someone who didn't have the privilege of an education.

Over time, the term evolved to refer more broadly to someone who lacks specialized or professional knowledge in a specific subject, and the use of 'in layman's terms' became more common as a way to bridge the gap between experts and the general public. While the exact origins of the phrase may be challenging to pinpoint, its usage has been widespread in the English language for a considerable period.

Examples in Sentences

Now that we've covered the meaning of this idiom and its origins, here are some example sentences that use it.

Could you explain the scientific findings in layman's terms? I'm not familiar with all the technical details.

The engineer did his best to describe the complex machinery in layman's terms so that everyone in the meeting could understand.

In layman's terms, the software acts as a virtual assistant, helping users with various tasks.

The doctor always broke down the diagnosis in layman's terms, ensuring the patients fully comprehended the medical condition.

Can you put the legal jargon in layman's terms? I want to understand the implications of the contract.

The professor, known for his expertise in quantum physics, delivered a lecture in layman's terms to engage a broader audience.

She translated the complicated financial report into layman's terms for the shareholders during the biannual meeting.

The IT specialist explained the computer virus threat in layman's terms, emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity measures.

The journalist aimed to present the complex economic policy in layman's terms to make it accessible to the general readership.

The architect discussed the blueprints in layman's terms with the homeowners, ensuring they understood the design concepts for their new house. 

Other Ways to Say 'In Layman's Terms'

There are plenty of other ways to say you're explaining something in an easy-to-understand way. They're great to use if you're looking for alternative phrases.

Here are some of them:

  • Simply put
  • In plain English
  • In non-technical terms
  • In simple terms
  • Without the industry jargon
  • In basic terms

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article about this popular idiom. To summarize, when someone explains something 'in layman's terms,' they explain it in simple language that anyone can understand.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for other idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!  

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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