Mamihlapinatapai: The World’s Most Succinct Word

Chances are, you experience the meaning of this word often, but you didn’t know there was a word for it … by Ryan Ulbrich

You’re at a bar. Or a library. Or on the playground as a child. Or maybe somewhere else.  And then, suddenly, somebody for some innocent reason sticks out to you.  You share an unforgettable look with them. Quickly, so as not to be noticed, you look down, bashful. Then they, too, noticing your scurry look away suddenly. It’s a brief moment unspoken, unbeknownst to anyone but yourselves. An expressive silence. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know it’s something.  It’s subtle, but it’s special.

This experience is described in the film Life in a Day, a crowd-sourced documentary produced by Ridley Scott.  It captures July 24th, 2010, and is made of thousands of hours of raw footage in  tens of thousands of submissions worldwide.

In it, a young girl describes her favorite word, Mamihlapinatapai. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s the world’s most succinct word (i.e., most meaning with the least amount of letters).  Roughly translated, it means “a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will initiate something which both desire, but which neither one wants to start.”

Check out these three short films depicting it’s meaning in different forms:

 [Video 1]

[Video 2]

[Video 3] 

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