Mamihlapinatapei- Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start”

I’d love to tell you exactly how to pronounce it with one of those cool dictionary breakdowns (you know like ‘awesome’ – [aw-suhm], or something with a schwa in it). Unfortunately, I don’t know any Yagans and I have never been to Tierra del Fuego. No one on the Internet seems to have written down how to pronounce it either. My best guess is ‘Ma-meh-la-pin-a-ta-pay’, and so that is how I pronounce it. What I can definitely tell you (and what seems most appropriate given that it is my birthday and all) is why I chose this as the name of my blog.

Up until late last year, I had never even heard of this word. I was reading one of my friend’s blog posts (RVexpeditions), when I came across a post of hers which linked to this article about ‘untranslatable’ words of the world, of which ‘mamihlapinatapei’ was one of them. I found most of the words very interesting (especially the fact that most of the words of Germanic descent described pain and sadness, whereas most of the words of Romantic descent describe passion and desire) but there was something especially attractive about ‘mamihlapinatapei’. It really struck a chord with me about my life and how I had lived it up until that point in time.

When you first read the definition, I am guessing that your mind goes to the romantic/relationship aspect of it. I know that mine did. Just reflecting back on that first awesome, awkward, horrific, powerful, excruciatingly sweet and seemingly endless moment when two people who are attracted to each other trade glances where they pretend to not be looking at each other even when they catch each other doing it. Only each one is too afraid to make that first move so they are trying to hone their powers of telepathy and telekinesis to make the other person make the first move. Then the moment is gone and both people are stuck wondering what to do next. Maybe the stars align again and the nerd goes out with the prom queen or maybe the alpha male wins again. Its the stuff that teen romantic comedies and dramedies are made of, as well as my entire adolescence and early adulthood.

There were a number of times that would be hanging around a girl that I liked (real girls, not far away girls that I definitely didn’t have a chance to go out with) when an opportune moment would come for me to open up a little bit about myself and my feelings for her. Only I would be too nervous, too self-conscious and had too much self doubt to put myself out there. So I would just sit there (or sometimes stand there) and wait and try to will her to make a move. Only she either had no idea (best case scenario) or was doing a good job of hiding her open loathing of me (worst case and also most probable scenario). Eventually the moment would pass and I would be left to pine away in silence.

There was even one time when I was given a giant neon sign that was advertising “I like you, we should go out on date” and yet I was too nervous to go for it. I had run into this girl at a church carnival after a few years since we had last seen each other as high school freshman. A few days later, I asked her to a school dance. On the way to the dance, she basically said that she was glad I asked her to the dance and she was wondering why I had done so. In my mind I was thinking that “I think you are fun, interesting and attractive and I would like to go on future dates with you.” What came out of my mouth was something like “I wanted to go with someone who I was friends with.” Enter, The Friend Zone. Of course, a few years later I ran into her again and she mentioned that dance and said that she had had a crush on me for a long time. Mamihlapinatapei.

Now, you may be saying to yourself that in the end, does any of that matter? You have a lovely wife and two beautiful children. Clearly that relationship (and any of the others) weren’t meant to be. My response to that would be… you are right. Life turned out how it was supposed to. However, there is the principle of the thing. I was too scared, nervous and self-conscious to do something even though I had a high-likelihood of success. The fact that it was a relationship is immaterial.

The more I thought about the word, the more I realized how much it was a part of my life. Projects at work, opportunities in school and life. There were countless times when I had a good idea or a good opportunity would come up and yet I didn’t have the guts to put it into action. ‘No one will think that is a good idea’, I would say to myself. ‘No one cares about what you think’. ‘Who do you think you are putting yourself out there like that, your nothing special.’ I would stare an opportunity in the eye longingly and wait for it to make the first move. Mamihlapinatapei.

Even something as simple as a blog. I must have thought about starting a blog for at least a year, but I kept talking myself out of it. Who am I to think that people would want to read anything about me? You certainly aren’t a writer or very creative for that matter. You aren’t particularly funny. Save everyone’s time and some space on the Internet and don’t start a blog.

But I did and I am definitely better for it. It certainly helps that I have a nice group of very supportive readers. But it has been and will continue to be a positive force in my life. There are still times when I don’t believe in myself, but I think I am getting better at it. I still favor making jokes at my own expense and there are still ideas and projects that are waiting to be executed (it takes a lot more than a blog to cure procrastination!)

But my goal, is to be the master of Mamihlapinatapei and not let it master me, both figuratively and literally. Besides when I was younger, I had it all wrong. Who wouldn’t love this kid?


About ironsalsa

I'm just a man who likes to hear himself talk, yet pretends he can't stand himself.
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3 Responses to Mami-what?

  1. Gracie says:

    I’m writing a piece for a creating writing module and this is the title. This blog really helped to get me into character of the main voice so thank you!

  2. eddie says:

    i was looking for pronunciation and found your blog. your pronunciation seems close, but here it sounds here like it has a hard i on the end, like pee-eye. here you can listen to it being spoken by two people.

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