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Mamihlapinatapei

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This is just a piece of art I based off a recent photograph taken in Clare. I wanted something to bring a little colour to this piece.

Via Lonely Planet’s twitter feed which Flipboard serves me on my iPad from time to time, I happened across this piece. It caught my attention because I know – to some extent – what it’s like to be able to express somethings in one language, but not another. It’s disorienting when the blanks are in your native language, and the gaps are filled by second and third languages. French, in my case, can be a holy terror for being more expressive for me than English.

I’m good on Age-otori – the art of looking worse after a haircut than before – it’s a common feature of having my hair cut in Dublin. Irish hairdressers just are not as good as their French counterparts. Mokita is another one. The truth everyone knows, but no one says. The elephant in the corner, in local parlance, you might say.

The one which hit me like a freight train, however, was Mamihlapinatapei. Even typing the word is a bit of a killer and I am having serious problems remembering it. I’m not good on Amerindian languages and this is from the Yagan language from Tierra del Fuega. Pretty remote to me, it must be said.

So sublimely contained that it’s apparently been named the world’s most succinct word by The Guinness Book of World Records. Wikipedia says it’s ‘a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to [initiate]‘.

When you look at it rationally, logically, it seems so crazy. We both want something, but we neither of us want to start it. It seems so very sad in a way. I sometimes wonder how much societal norms has to do with that.

Buried not too far been the surface, however, is the memory of that look. It doesn’t come alone – it comes lined up with hope for company. And it leaves a bittersweet taste that pervades your mind for a very long time. And the heartbreaking thing about it – I think – is you often don’t recognise it until after it’s too late.

It’s nice to know that somewhere, someone, thought it was a concept worth labelling.  Most people in the world have probably been there.

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