Mamihlapinatapai, a mouthful of a word, comes from the Yaghan language. This language was spoken on the archipelago called “Tierra del Fuego” which is divided between Chile and Argentina. When I saw the definition of this word, I immediately flashed back to times in my life when this has happened, and it was bittersweet.
Mamihlapinatapai – a look shared between people who both want to initiate something they both want, but neither one wants to be first
Just reading that makes me feel like I’m caught up in a moment of unspoken desire. That first date when you want to hold the person’s hand or kiss them but you’re too afraid, and the desire wells up inside of you until you feel like you’re about to burst, but you don’t want to make a poorly received move.
Or it could be the feeling after you’ve had a massive blowout fight with your best friend and you desperately want everything to go back to normal, but someone has to apologize first. You feel the knife twisting in your gut, telling you to apologize and mend this relationship that’s important to you, but your pride holds you back.
Or it could be the desire to take the last bite of a shared dessert. Now that is true pain. You REALLY want that last sweet, delicious bite of mango flan but you know it’s against the rules of human decency to take the last bite without asking. You also don’t want to be the one to ask and have the other person judge you for not telling them to have the last bite…now I’m craving flan.
My favorite part of learning words with no English equivalent is discovering the universality of the human experience. It’s cool the indigenous people of a South American archipelago have a word for something also experienced by people in metropolitan cities across the world, in small villages in the desert, in the tundra, in the rainforest. Maybe Jung was onto something…