WTF Fun Fact 13486 – Mamihlapinatapai, the Most Succinct Word

Certain words defy easy translation since they embody ideas or emotions so complex – one such word is “mamihlapinatapai.”

This word hails from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago split between Chile and Argentina. The term was recognized in the 1994 Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most “succinct word.” (Unfortunately, today, their tribe has dwindled to fewer than 2,000 members, with most speaking Spanish instead of their native tongue.)

Mamihlapinatapai, the Untranslatable Emotion

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

The word’s complexity and its lack of a direct translation into English or other major languages have earned it a spot among the world’s favorite “untranslatables.”

It wasn’t until the late 2000s that the term mamihlapinatapai started appearing all over the internet. People were fascinated. Artists found inspiration in the term, incorporating it into their songs, exhibitions, and books.

More Than Just Romance

Of course, just as internet fame changes a person, it can change a word. While mamihlapinatapai often evokes romantic notions, its application now extends to other areas. For example, in gaming theory, it refers to the volunteer’s dilemma, where an individual player might have to make a sacrifice for the collective benefit.

Despite the global recognition of mamihlapinatapai, the Yaghan language is teetering on the brink of extinction. It has no linguistic relatives. The last guardian of this language is Cristina Calderon, the only fluent living speaker of Yaghan!

Despite the impending threat to the Yaghan language, there’s hope. Calderon has been teaching her granddaughter some Yaghan, and they have published books to preserve Yaghan culture and history. This effort to pass on the language and culture to the next generation is a critical step in preserving this endangered language.

Internet Fame: A Blessing or a Curse?

While the global recognition of mamihlapinatapai has introduced the world to the Yaghan language and culture, it has also brought unwanted media attention to the Yaghan community. The fame of a single word, however, does not ensure the survival of the language.

The story of mamihlapinatapai is a testament to language’s ability to capture the subtleties of human experience. It serves as a stark reminder of the loss we face as languages dwindle and disappear, taking with them unique cultural perspectives and understanding.

The tale of this word reminds us that each language offers its unique prism through which we can view and understand the world.

Wondering how to pronounce this complex word? Check out this video (but you’ll probably need to listen a few times to catch it):

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Source: “How the Internet Changed the Meaning of ‘Mamihlapinatapai’” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 13041 – Oldest Mummy Ever Found

You might be surprised to know that the oldest mummy ever found does not come from Egypt. The practice of mummification likely began in Chile.

The first mummies

The Chinchorro people settled in the bays of the Atacama Desert of present-day Chile around 7,000 BCE. All evidence points to these people developing a mummification technique around 5000 BCE. That’s two millennia before the the first ancient Egyptian mummies.

According to CNN (cited below), the oldest mummies ever found are currently kept the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum in the village of San Miguel de Azapa. The museum has 300 specimens but only displays around 10% of the collection to the public.

“It’s a very sacred collection because the majority of the items are related to the ceremony of death,” Mariela Santos, the museum curator and conservationist told CNN.

The first mummies

In Chile, the first mummies were babies and fetuses. And the area developed at least five separate mummification processes. However, 2 (black and red mummies) are the most common.

“Making the black mummies involved taking the dead person’s body completely apart, treating it and then reassembling it, skin and all. The red ones were created by making small incisions to remove internal organs and then drying the body cavity. Both were typically stuffed with sticks and reeds (to fill out the forms), adorned with wigs, and masked with clay over the faces — the former painted in manganese and the latter in ochre.”

Recognition for the site of the oldest mummy ever found

Chile’s Chinchorro sites were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2021. This makes it more popular with tourists and gives the area more resources to preserve their mummies. It should also put Chile on the map as far as the history of mummification is concerned. However, an influx of tourists can also hurt local communities.

Athropologist Bernardo Arriaza has studied the Chinchorro mummies and is an advocate for the site getting the attention it deserves.

“What we’re trying to show is that we not only have the oldest evidence of intentional mummification, but it was done by pre-ceramic hunter-gatherer people in a pristine environment that remains today,” he told CNN.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Surprise! The world’s oldest mummies are not in Egypt” — CNN