22 Words

Most concise word for a complicated concept

February 21, 2011 | By Abraham | 5 comments

The honor of “most succinct word” according to the Guinness Book of World Records goes to the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego. The word is…

Mamihlapinatapai

“Most succinct?” you say—”But that’s kind of a long word.” True. But it’s short for all the meaning that’s packed into it.

It describes “a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin.”

Here’s the breakdown:

The word consists of the reflexive/passive prefix ma- (mam- before a vowel), the root ihlapi (pronounced [iɬapi]), 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.

(via Wikipedia)

I wouldn’t say I agree with this, since pretty much any word can be said to have an extremely complicated definition if you want to break it down far enough, but it’s still interesting… Right, guys? Right?

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5 Comments

  1. David says:

    I’m a word junkie, so I love learning this kind of thing. Thanks for the post!

    On the related subject of words for which a strictly translated equivalent is hard to find: The modern Greek (my ethnic background) word “kefi.”

    Kefi is a word that means an irrepressible exuberant joy/passion/enthusiasm, one that simply has to be expressed. It often finds an outlet in either dancing or smashing plates. The Biblical story where David brings the Ark to Jerusalem is an excellent example of kefi.

    1. David says:

      Clarifying for those who are unfamiliar with 2 Kingdoms (or 2 Samuel, whatever you want to call it): King David is so overwhelmed by the return of the Ark to Jerusalem that he dances around in his underwear.

  2. Nicole from MA says:

    I saw this word recently on some random list of longest words ever. Long but succinct. Good stuff. I wish that the rest of the world knew this word so that I could use it in conversation without having to explain it. :)

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