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From a Yámana word mamihlapinatapai, which The Guinness Book of Records listed as the "most succinct word," defining it as "looking at each other hoping that either will offer to do something which both parties desire but are unwilling to do."[1]

The word is a regularly-derived form of the verb ihlvpi /iɬəpi/, meaning "to feel awkward" or "to be at a loss for what to do": ma[m]- refl/recp + ihlvpi + :n[a]- stative + -at[a]- caus + -a:pai du. Its literal meaning is therefore roughly "to make each other both feel awkward".[2]



  1. A situation in which all participants want something to be done, but none want to do it.
    • 2008, Jennifer Ackerman, Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body[1]:
      By contrast, if that same face looks away from us, the activity in this area diminishes, lire heightened dopamine activity is not rooted in the attractiveness of the gazer per se, but in the potential for interaction signaled by eye contact, mamihlapinatapei.
    • 2008, Len Fisher, Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life, page 77:
      The Volunteer's Dilemma, or mamihlapinatapai, is a game of Chicken with many participants.
    • 2012, Mark Forsyth, The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt through the Lost Words of the English language[2]:
      As two people stand at a doorway each gesturing 'After you', that is mamihlapinatapai.
    • 2013, V. S. Atbay, Epiphany - A Collection of Poems[3]:
      We knew of this, the secret language grew between my yearning, between her submission, temporary and fleeting, only to be caught again. And there was that word; Mamihlapinatapai
    • 2013, Koren Zailckas, Mother, Mother: A Novel[4]:
      Mamihlapinatapai. A naming word. It meant the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.


  1. ^ The Guinness Book of Records, 1994, page 392.
  2. ^ LanguageHat, Mamihlapinatapai. Accessed 2018-06-21.