Graysplaining, or how to spot a silverback

silverback gorilla

In case you live under a rock, I’m going to introduce you to a term that’s been going around the internet: mansplain. Actually, because I’m feeling awfully lazy this morning, I’m going to copy/pasta the Urban Dictionary definition without linking to Urban Dictionary:

to delighting (sic) in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation

Even though he knew she had an advanced degree in neuroscience, he felt the need to mansplain “there are molecules in the brain called neurotransmitters”

Anyway, that’s mansplaining. It’s basically talking down to someone who’s equally or more qualified than you because you’re so sure of your opinion based on things that don’t matter, in this case gender. In the online gun community, there’s an equally annoying habit: graysplaining.

silverback gorilla

What’s graysplaining? Ever since Jeff Cooper died, a horde of old fuddy-duddies have attempted to fill his shoes as the Thoughtful Old Man of the Internet. They’ve mostly failed, but what they have accomplished is creating a ton of content that is based around the premise that “I’m old, and therefore I’m right.” Here’s some graysplaining for you:

I’ve watched even highly-trained and experienced shooters forget to deactivate the safety on their autopistols when faced with a new and distracting shooting challenge. I’ve also seen them forget to activate that safety and negligently discharge their guns. These aren’t people who are new to the guns, either. I’m talking about people with hundreds of hours of formal training, some of them police officers who are tasked with training their fellow officers. The more complicated something is, the easier it is to forget something when you’re distracted.

There’s the implication in the quoted piece that the author, in his infinite wisdom, will not make these mistakes, because he is speaking from high atop Silverback mountain, stroking his ancient beard of wisdom. Never mind that at times his “wisdom” runs counter to the actual experience of people, that’s not how it was done “in his day.” Silverbacks aren’t really that bad, once you learn to recognize them. They can even be kind of useful if you’re looking for information on TTPs from 1973. So to make things easier, here are Gun Nuts Three Steps to Spotting a Silverback.

1. Name dropping people from the previous millennium: “Well, when I was training with Jeff Cooper we did things this way.”
It’s just a version of the old appeal to authority, where the ancient silverback will attempt to defuse disagreements by trotting out the names of people who were relevant 30 years ago. Now before you crucify me for impugning the great name of Jeff Cooper, I think his writings on mindset and awareness are just as valid today as they were when he wrote them down. We’ve definitely moved past Weaver though as the most effective way to get a pistol into a fight.

2. Point-shooting.
I’m serious! The most dedicated advocates of point-shooting are always graysplaining how “Col Applegate” did it this way. Regardless of the fact that when Applegate formulated his methods of point shooting, guns has sights on them that could be best describe as “vestigial”. The vast majority of point shooting advocates will sit there, stroking their beards and talking about WW2 combatives.

3. Dismissing any experienced opinion that runs contrary to theirs.
This one is my favorite. I’ve literally seen old fuddy-duddies dismiss the experience and observations of cops, soldiers with multiple deployments, and even civilians who’ve been in actual shootings. Because those people aren’t old enough to really know, I guess. It’s insane. But it’s also hilarious, because they get shut down pretty quick.

So there you go, three simple steps to spot a silverback. Watch for it, learn to laugh at it. If you see some guy talking down to other people on the internet because he’s clearly the old voice of wisdom, the self-anointed successor to Jeff Cooper, you’ve seen a Silverback. If you have any examples of graysplaining, feel free to drop them in the comments!

45 thoughts on “Graysplaining, or how to spot a silverback”

  1. #3: I remember going to the range and someone decked out in camo touting his military experience to newer shooters and even myself. It got to the point where he even tried to show me the teacup grip instead of the thumbs forward I was using. Instead of calling him out and raging I asked what his job was in the military and when he replied truck driver I asked “I didn’t realize truck drivers had such in depth training for using handguns (aside from standard training and qualification shoots). He left me alone after that…

  2. Hey,

    Age and Experience IS Important!! When I graduated from Brooks in April 1985, with One Degree and TWO Majors in Photography, I thought I was HOT SHIT!! Now, almost 30 years later, I know I didn’t know shit!!

    Brooks ONLY gave me the basic Tools on how to be a Photographer, the rest was up to me. Through the years, I learned from the best, by looking, listening, observing, learning and keeping my Pie Hole shut!! From those experiences, I developed the lighting style I use now. But I’m still learning and at the same time I want to share what I’ve learned.

    What do you suggest I do?? Keep my ideas and experiences to myself or share them with new young and fresh Photographers with ONLY Theory in their Brains full of Mush??

    Will I be Graysplaining if I try to teach what I learned over the last 30 years to a young eager shooter?? Or should I be a total Asshat and let them struggle for 30 years like I did??

    That IS the real question!!

    I know that Years of experience DO NOT equate to the RIGHT experience or Expertise, but some of us, at times know what we are talking about, just because we’ve been there, done that and still have the old stinky and raggedy T-Shirt!!

    1. I should have added that most silverbacks don’t actually have the experience they’re lording over people. There’s a difference between legit BTDT and silverbacking.

    2. Well said.

      Thanks to the Internet it seems people don’t want to hear from those who do know what they are talking about (Notice I said “know what they are talking about”) if they are have gray hair or are overweight and perhaps don’t have a blog (?).

      Happens every with every generation. Perhaps they rebelled against their parents and old guys remind them too much of their fathers, who did not know shit about anything as the kids were growing up—including what they did know something about. I was that way with my parents and so were my kids. At some point I stopped not listening and started listening and discovered Dad knew stuff.

      Anyone not young—of their generation—isn’t smart, doesn’t know the “current modern technique” and can’t fight their way out of a paper bag or shoot a perfect Bill Drill with a derringer. They are certainly not worth listening to.

      I dislike being talked down to. I seldom pay attention to someone who talks that way. However, with my gray hair I have learned that hair color (or the absence of hair), weight, age, accent or how their physique differs from mine is not a good reason to ignore the knowledge they may possess (assuming they do possess some), whether they are teaching shooting or nuclear physics. I try to take what I feel is relevant from everyone and toss the chaff aside.

      If you only hang around with those who think like you, patting each other on the back and nodding in agreement, it seems akin to incest, and we all know what that produces.

      But, perhaps I am just Graysplaining. I suppose it is up to the Internet and today’s generation to decide.

  3. The text quoted from Grant Cunningham was validating an entirely different point (regarding the reliability of revolvers) than the suggested ” … speaking from high atop Silverback mountain, stroking his ancient beard of wisdom. …” or any assertion that he’d never make such mistakes.

    I have no idea what you’d deliberately misrepresent something like this. Perhaps 5 minutes of research was too much to ask for?

      1. Because if I’d written “THIS ARTICLE IS SATIRE” across the top in all caps, it wouldn’t have had the desired impact.

        1. But at times it’s hard to discern the difference between satire and foolishness!!

          This reminds me of a great line from Spinal Tap..

          “There is a fine line between being clever and being stupid”

          It’s hard for some people to see through satire.

          1. I might point out that the habit of assuming other people who are younger/more female/whatever than you are stupid rather than sarcastic or making a different point is in itself a core element of what Caleb describes.

            Well shit, looks like I just did.

  4. Yeah, it gets old. Your example excerpt is a good one. I have had a lot of such folks desparage anything other than a Glock (or similar) because they have “seen people miss the safty on a 1911 the minute the buzzer goes off.” Funny, in 10 years of carrying, shooting, and competing with a 1911 I never missed the saftey even once. Oh yeah, I forgot, I am one of those folks who train. I have now carried a plastic fantastic for a few years. Made the swtch because it just suits my lifestyle better than the rather heavy and maintenance intensive slab sides, nothing to do with the manual saftey. These silver backs tend to want to dumb everything down to the lowest denominator that works for the lowest performer. I find this mentality is not at all confined to old guys either. Plenty of younger guys the same way. Of course the irony is most of these types tend to be mediocre shooters at best. Real shooters don’t get married to particular techniques and skills. If something can foster improvement a good shooter will adopt it regardless of how many, or few, years the notion has been around.

  5. Oh, man.
    I have a friend who I’ve known for like 20 years, that’s a retired Border Patrol (and other LE) officer. He was critiquing my handgun techniques off of a couple IDPA pics and vids, saying that back when he (hand to God, you can find this yourself Caleb) and Jeff trained back in the day… Weaver stance… More stable platform…
    I don’t think he mentioned stopping power or 45, but he wanted to (I just knows it)!

    I was just like, uh, I use the modified isoceles technique and left it there. Good guy, otherwise!

  6. Hmmm… not sure how I feel about this one. I get the impression that this is a big STFU to anyone over 35. Is experience really a bad thing? I mean, I get that arguments from authority are classic logical fallacies, but what if someone IS an authority? I agree that talking down to people is bad form. I get that it’s “not what you say, but how you say it.” But really, none of us can help what age we are. We really don’t get a choice in the matter. Hopefully, though, we are all gaining knowledge and wisdom along the way. I love to learn new things, and I really don’t care if the person I learn them from is 20 or 80, male or female, black or white or whatever. I also like to share what I’ve learned. Is it wrong, then, for me to chime-in when I see some erroneous tidbit posted somewhere because I’ve reached some particular age? Really?

    I hate “isms.” Sexism, racism, etc.; none are pretty. Nor is ageism. “Silverback” is just name calling redeux. While there is indeed some room to criticise, another derogatory term doesn’t help.

    Lastly, I’d like to say one thing about point shooting; I thought it was a myth. Until I took an advanced level class a couple of summers ago, I had no idea that it was a real thing! Even scarier, I had no idea that it would work. A great instructor, who I guess by his white hair some might think of as a “silverback,” finally put it into terms that “clicked” for me; that your shot will go where your finger points. When we draw from a holster, we’re taught to keep our fingers out of the trigger guard. Instead, we keep it pointed forward, along side the barrel. Naturally, if you’re using that finger to point AT your target, the barrel is going to follow. Now, maybe everyone in the world figured this one out but me — I don’t know. But I DO know that, all of a sudden, my quick-fire defensive double-taps were landing exactly where I was pointing. I was simply amazed that a single concept like that, once understood, made that big of an improvement! So in my experience, the “old fuddies” were right. I just wasn’t comprehending. Of course, the gun has to help. If you’re gripping the gun and the barrel is NOT aligned with your finger, then another thing suddenly makes sense: all those interchangeable grips!

    I once thought that they were for making the gun “feel better in the hand,” as some magazine articles say. In truth, though, it’s a quick, easy way to make sure that when you quickly grab that pistol, it’s pointing where you want it to point. We point at things from the time we’re babies. I have no doubt that, if a laser shot out of my fingertip, it would hit what I was pointing at 99.99% of the time. So if you can coordinate that reflex with your gun, you’ll do much better under stress! That’s what it seems everybody understood but ME. So thank you, Mr. “Silverback” Instructor! Thank you.

  7. Me, I’m 66 and reading this and a few other articles you’ve written, I’ve surmised that you yourself make a good Silverback.

  8. You young whippersnappers don’t know anything. Why back when I didn’t serve in Vietnam…

  9. This doesn’t just happen on the internet. Also, I would have added that the person who feels the need to mansplain will likely become the one who graysplains, because in their mind years really DO equal knowledge. I have learned A LOT from older men. Without a single exception the older men I learned the most from were very knowledgeable, well spoken, and above all else HUMBLED due to years of making mistakes and learning from them. They also, without exception were open minded to hearing how a “young buck” like me might approach a problem, since they did not consider themselves to be above learning something from someone younger. Great post Caleb, unfortunately those who need to hear it have their chest so puffed out and their head so swollen that they will never even know it applies to them.

    1. Yeah, I really don’t want people to get the idea that I don’t like old, experienced people to teach. I’ve learned a ton from wise old men. Graysplaining is entirely the province of people who think they’re wise and old, but are really just old.

    2. I still learn every day!! I find those who have something meaningful to share and I tap into their knowledge!

      As my Grandpa used to say, Knowledge doesn’t take up any room in your brain!!

  10. Graysplaining can be dangerous.

    Scene: Family get-together on the south-Texas ranch, 10 years ago. My wife’s step-father was sighting in a .243, and swept me, his wife, my wife holding my younger daughter, and my elder daughter, with the off-safe Winchester M.70 that he had just chambered. I said, directly but not with malice, “Watch your muzzle!”

    That night after festering for 6 hours, he blew up. He had been handling firearms since the Korean War, 20 years before I was even born, and he wasn’t going to be talked that way to at his own ranch. He referenced my using a “police officer’s voice” at him.

    I told him that I had respect for him, but that this didn’t mean that I wouldn’t say anything when my entire family was in danger. I packed my stuff to leave. His wife made him apologize, and we stayed. However, I decided never to be in his presence while firearms were being handled, again. Pretty sad, given that firearms were just about the only thing that we had in common.

    1. This. Exactly this. In my admittedly limited experience this is the kind of thing one can expect from a “silverback”. Not only will they endanger everyone in the room because of their “experience” but when they are called on it they become irate and will not accept correction. This is the earmark of a fool, and you are probably wiser than he is for distancing yourself when firearms are involved.

  11. Well, I think the Urban “Dickshunery” sucks. Just say what what you mean based on what you ACTUALLY know, drop the PRETENSES, and if in doubt ASK!

  12. Really, it boils down to older generations are not going to be able to hang with the younger internet-centric generation of shooters because the flow of information is larger, broader, more complete and most important raw. Info is not regulated to a few gun magazines and a handful of training courses dotted around the country. MANY times I’ve heard in discussion both online and in person people dropping the “I’ve been _____ for 20 years” as if that in and of itself is some proof of competency. Curmudgeons are going to curmudgeon though. Note how many of the top shooters in the country have handled it! Jerry Miculek is a GREAT example of the exact OPPOSITE of what Caleb is talking about. JM’s embraced technology, social media, and especially youtube hanging out and sharing his knowledge, as well as guest starring with the younger generation of shooters. Meanwhile, “Silverbacks” are huddled in the dark corners of their reloading rooms cranking out .38 wad cutters talking about how back in the day things were better and so on and so forth… So a shooter can be a “Silverback”, or integrate with what the shooting community is now. Be a part of something larger, or fade into obscurity.

  13. I hear it often, but I am somewhat guilty as well. In my profession, your talent is measured by how long you’ve participated in the career field. There is a difference between time spent and experience. How valuable is long term continuity if the efforts are flawed? We aren’t judged by our success but the length of time we’re actively involved in the profession. It’s bull spit to me. Then again I see noobs trying to scam people with snake oil and it gripes my ass, especially when they hardly know what they are talking about and they are inexperienced both in time and success. How do you measure success anyway? By the number of people you successfully scam or by the number of happy customers? They can be one in the same, but does the scam count?

  14. If hunting analogies are permitted…

    Does having a few seasons of shooting ducks with lead (before steel shot was mandated) make me a graysplainer when I say, “ducks have always had a tenacious grip on life” in response to youngster’s exasperated lament, ” damn steel shot, I was all over that drake!”?

  15. First two forums that come to mind to me: The Firing Line and The High Road. They are the Silverback Studio 54.

    1. Ugh, did you have to remind me of those web sites? I used to be a regular participant on those forums, in the early 2000s. I’m sure that I would cringe if I read some of my old posts there — because I was young and knew everything back then.

  16. When I went to my first academy in 1976, I was taught the Weaver stance and and thumb-over-thumb grip. It worked fine with the Smith Model 15s we were shooting. I used it my entire street career.
    Thirty years later, when I became a firearms instructor at FLETC, i was taught (and required to teach) the “strong Isosceles” stance and the thumbs-forward grip for the issue SIG.
    Guess what? IT’S BETTER!
    I still find myself reverting to Weaver when I shoot revolvers, because the thumbs-forward grip is hard on the left thumb when the hot gases fly out of the cylinder gap, and in my mind, Weaver and thumb-over-thumb go together.
    I’m working on it, though.
    Every once in a while these young whippersnappers, like a stopped clock, turn out to be right. (Don’t tell anyone I said that.)

  17. I’ve been shooting for almost 60 years.

    Entered Law Enforcement in 1970 after Nam. Finally learned how to hold and present a handgun in the early 70’s from an FBI Senior Agent. Was a revolver Cop for 13 years (love my S&W revolvers!!). Medical retirement…

    One of the FIRST things I learned as a Cop was the difference between “20 years of experience” and “one year of experience 20 times”.

    I’m always learning. I don’t care whether the teacher is a pup or an old man..

  18. I trained with Jeff Cooper and carried a 1911 for a couple decades. Today, I carry a 9mm M&P and shoot using a thumbs forward grip. If I tell someone how we did it “back in the day” it is to explain how much better we have it now in terms of equipment and TTP’s. I may be getting gray, but I still understand the concepts of learning and progress. I just wish more gun guys of a certain age did.

  19. My father has always said, “Say a man does a job for five years. He can have five years of experience or one year of experience five times.” A lotta of mansplainers, graysplainers, etc. Had an experience one time in 30 years and thus have 30 years experience in their book, but really have the experience of one event.

    If you’re old and think the young don’t have anything to offer, you’re going to be sad when the innovations and brilliance pass you by.

    If you’re young and think the old don’t have anything to offer, you’re going to be sad when you realize the collective wisdom stored in those heads could have saved you thousands of hours of dealing with frustrations for your next brilliant innovation.

Comments are closed.