Let's set the scene. You're out with your friends, one of whom you have a crush on, and you somehow discover that they have a crush on you as well. At some point, your eyes meet. You hope that they will make the first move, they hope you will make the first move, so you awkwardly stare at each other for a few moments before glancing away. Have you ever felt that sensation? I have, and I didn't even know that there was a word for it until today. That feeling is called Mamihlapinatapai. Mamihlapinatapai is a long word that means “A situation in which all participants want something to be done, but none want to do it” or “A look shared by two people, each wishing the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin.” As you've probably guessed, Mamihlapinatapai isn't an English word. It comes from the native language of Tierra del Fuego, which is located in an archipelago off of the South American mainland. As far as I can tell, it's comprised of “the reflexive/passive prefix ma- (mam- before a vowel), the root ihlapi (pronounced [i?api]), which means "to be at a loss as what to do next", the stative suffix -n, an achievement suffix -ata, and the dual suffix -apai, which in composition with the reflexive mam- has a reciprocal sense.” Who knew the Land of Fire could produce such an interesting word? It's so interesting, in fact, that the Guinness Book of World Records named it the “Most Succinct Word.” It is also mentioned in A Life in the Day, a crowd-sourced documentary produced by Ridley Scott. In the film, a woman explains that Mamihlapinatapai is her favorite word. In Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary by Henry Hitchings, Hitchings describes the struggles of Samuel Johnson as he tried to find succinct, yet accurate, definitions to words. Mamihlapinatapai is one of those words.
Mamihlapinatapai is a noun, but it can be challenging to use such a complex word in the sentence. Instead, here are a few examples of how you can use it's meaning. “Kara and Heather glanced at each other as the lifeguard walked by. Kara raised her eyebrows in suggestion, and Heather nodded in agreement, but neither of them had the courage to go to him and break the ice.” “Do you want to go on the roller-coaster?” John asked his wife. Mary glanced at the coaster, noting it's three loops, and nervously nodded. “If you want to.” She replied. “Yeah, it looks fun.” John nodded. They locked eyes, each daring the other to go first, but neither of them budged. “Ice Cream?” Mary finally suggested. “God, yes.” John answered, relieved. They may not be the best of examples, but you get the idea. There you have it! The “World's Most Succinct Word” defined and explained to the best of my ability. Now, next time you experience this meaningful emotion, you'll know what it is...even if you can't quite pronounce it. For more information, visit Wikipedia (I know, guys. I'm ashamed too), There Are No Roads, Word Focus, and Your Dictionary. The photo of the Siamese Cats from Lady and the Tramp (the best photo example I could find) came from a Google search.