Mamihlapinatapai

Words are inert without language to interpret them. That being said, I’m absolutely fascinated with the idea that there are certain concepts or ideas that are simply inexpressible because we lack the linguistic tools. Words such as schadenfreude come to mind, because English has not yet amalgamated them into its unholy dictionary. As a devout monolinguist, it is a little frustrating to not have the full use of human expression to help me relate. But that doesn’t stop me from doing all I can to learn more our human culture through the words we all use.

I don’t remember quite what I was doing when I stumbled across the word mamihlapinatapai (Edit: What a mouthful!), but it is practically the perfect example of this idea I’m trying to get across. There is no translation, but the gist of the word is this: “mamihlapinatapai is a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start.” – Source- wikipedia. Personally, this is one of my favorite feelings (I also love awkwardness), but I never realized there was a word for it. This revelation is absolutely marvelous!

So, the next time you are in a situation in which the person you are with and yourself both obviously want the same thing but are unwilling to take the first step, think of this word, and smile! Now, if only I had any damn idea how to pronounce it…

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~ by Andrew on April 14, 2009.

One Response to “Mamihlapinatapai”

  1. This might be my favourite word now. Thanks for sharing it. I don’t think it’s just awkward, though. There’s a kind of suspension in that situation, like it’s a perfectly crafted little moment of low, sideways glances and you almost don’t want to get out of it. In short, amazing word.

    (Also, in response to “What a mouthful!” – TWSS.)

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