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What does “ELI5” mean and how do you use it?

Explain as if I am five
Water Vicente

Is there a topic that you do not understand and that you would like to explain as simply as possible? You may want to use the acronym ELI5. Here’s what it means and how you can use it to get a helpful explanation.

“Explain like I̵
7;m 5”

ELI5 stands for “explain as if I am 5.” When people use it online, they ask others to explain a complex or obscure topic in the simplest of terms. So, taken literally, they would explain something in a way that a 5 year old would understand.

However, this acronym is rarely used literally. ELI5 means splitting a topic into reader-friendly layman terms.

Some popular ELI5 topics include science, technology, law and economics. Questions about astrophysics or global affairs may not have easy answers readily available online. So an answer in response to “ELI5” may be the best way for the average person to understand a concept.

The default format is to just type in the acronym followed by the question you want to ask: “ELI5: Why is a day longer on other planets?” Scientists or enthusiasts can then respond in the comments.

The history of ELI5

Unlike many internet abbreviations, the origin of ELI5 is much more recent. It was first used online on Twitter in early 2010. However, it is possible that it was previously in use.

In 2011, the r / ExplainLikeImFive subreddit was created and ELI5 became one of the most common acronyms used in educational circles on the Internet. Since then, the subreddit has grown significantly and ELI5 is now widely used all over the web.

The ELI5 Subreddit

As we mentioned above, the main platform you can ask questions formatted this way is the ELI5 subreddit. With nearly 20 million subscribers, it is one of the most popular communities on the entire platform.

The subreddit asks people to add a flair to posts based on their category, such as biology, physics, or economics. All posts on the subreddit follow the ELI5 format and thousands of people come to the community daily to answer questions. It has become one of the largest repositories of simplified information on complex topics on the Internet.

Some of the most popular questions ever posted are:

  • “If there is no cell phone signal, how does the emergency calls only mode work?”
  • “How does your body burn 2,000 calories a day, but you have to run a mile to burn an extra 100?”

Reddit has recognized ELI5 as one of the most important communities on its website. In 2013, the company even named its first original video series to the subreddit. The videos take a comical approach to the premise of the subreddits, explaining things like the Syrian crisis and philosophy to true 5-year-olds.

However, if you’re really trying to understand an obscure, objective topic, there are better places on the Internet to get information than the ELI5 community.

ELI5 outside of Reddit

A teacher teaching a young student in front of a laptop.
Asia Images Group / Shutterstock

ELI5 is alive and well on platforms other than Reddit. You often see it on other social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter. It is quite common for someone to use ELI5 when asking their followers or friends to explain something. Since platforms like Twitter also have a character limit, these statements should be abbreviated even further than on Reddit.

Many podcasts and YouTube channels have also adopted the ELI5 format and include experts who break down complex topics for the audience. Some have based their entire show on the format, while others use it in one-off episodes.

A very popular show with a similar format is WIRED’s 5 Levels, in which experts explain topics at five levels of difficulty.

How to use ELI5

Using ELI5 also means that you may be too scared to ask the same question in a typical setting.

For example, one of the most appreciated posts on the subreddit is, “Why ‘Hoo’ produces cold air, but ‘Haa’ produces warm air?” While this may seem like an unusual question, it is one that many people have probably wondered about.

Using ELI5 is easy. Just type the acronym followed by your question or the topic you want more information about, like the examples below:

  • “ELI5: Why are the polar ice caps melting?”
  • “ELI5: government deficits.”
  • “ELI5: Why do bones make noise when you break them?”
  • “ELI5: Fast charging.”

After you get your answers, you can post what you learned with another internet acronym: TIL.

RELATED: What does “TIL” mean and how do you use it?

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