"I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you” is a saying that has been printed on many gift items, such as T-shirts, buttons and posters. The saying is especially popular in Texas and Louisiana, and it’s been credited to Texas state senator Robert Gammage (1938-2012) in 1974, Texas-born attorney Walter Raleigh Ely, Jr. (1913-1984) in 1977, East Baton Rouge (LA) parish mayor-president Woody Dumas (1916-1993) in 1992, and Texas attorney and state senator Carl Parker in 1993. Texas author and columnist Molly Ivins (1944-2007) called it “an old Texas legislative saw” in 1999.
Record of Proceedings, Texas Constitutional Convention:
Official Journals, January 8, 1974-July 30, 1974, Volume 2
Constitutional Convention of Texas
GAMMAGE: Mr. Hall, I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.
California State Bar Journal
Walter Ely said to a lawyer on the floor of the Conference of Delegates a number of years ago, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”
2 March 1982, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Defends LSU board,” Letters, sec. 1, pg. 8, col. 1:
As one wag once said, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”
(Written by Sheldon D. Beychek, LSU Board of Supervisors—ed.)
7 July 1992, The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), Smiley Anders column:
Woody’s wise words: Judge Bob Downing, taking note of our series on Favorite Movie Lines, says his favorite quotation comes not from a movie star but from a political star.He recalls former Mayor-President Woody Dumas saying, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.” “I’ve found that expression very useful from time to time,” says the judge.
4 August 1993, Austin (TX) American-Statesman, “Did Max the Dog eat Perot’s missing plan? Oracle tells all,” pg. A12:
Oracle does not believe we can afford to lose a legislator (Carl Parker—ed.) who once told a colleague after repeated questioning on a matter, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”
17 October 1993, Austin (TX) American-Statesman, “Letters,” pg. E2:
Regarding Michele Kay’s Oct. 10 whine-off column ("In Austin, the majority rarely rules"), I can only quote Carl Parker, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”
19 May 1996, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “My son, the graduate,”
Or, as the mothers say in East Texas, `Bubba, I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”
19 October 1999, Kerrville (TX) Daily Times, “Test ban vote potentially catastrophic” by Molly Ivins, pg. 4, col. 4:
But a memorable one-on-one duel of fat vs. stubbornness between Joe Biden of Delaware and Sam Brownback of Kansas—left at one point as the only senators in the committee hearing—will remain etched in my memory as a painful example of an old Texas legislative saw: I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for your.
The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush
By Molly Ivins and Lou Dubos
New York, NY: Vintage Books
There are two phrases frequently used in Texas legislative debate, from the front mike to the back. One is, “Ignorance can be cured, stupidity can’t.” The other is the (Pg. XXXVII—ed.) exasperated, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”
Teach STEM Now
Education is not Explaining…The Modeling Instruction Paradigm
FEBRUARY 13TH, 2013 BY AL CHIRINIAN
I own a t-shirt that reads, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.” I don’t normally wear t-shirts to class, so this seemingly cynical message is lost to my teacher colleagues. This is too bad because the message is far from cynical from an educator’s perspective. It really means that explaining a concept to someone does not mean they will understand it.