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):

 WTF fun facts

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

WTF Fun Fact 13195 – Tartle

The Scots have some great words in their vocabulary. Take “tartle,” for example. Have you ever heard of it?

What is a “tartle”?

Tartle is a Scottish word. It refers to the feeling of hesitation or panic that one experiences when one can’t remember someone’s name. Scots also use it to describe the act of hesitating to introduce someone because you can’t remember their name.

When someone experiences tartle forgetfulness, it can be caused by a number of factors. These include age-related memory loss, lack of attention when the person was first introduced, or normal forgetting. It can also be related to a condition known as anomic aphasia. This is a type of language disorder that affects the ability to recall words, including names.

The word tartle is not widely known outside of Scotland, but it is a useful word to describe a common experience of social awkwardness. You can also use the word tartle to describe the general feeling of hesitation when you are trying to remember something (not just a name) or when you are in a situation where your memory failed.

According to The Scotsman (cited below): “What makes the word so special is that it doesn’t apply when you forget the person’s name entirely. Oh no. It exists only to encapsulate the brief awkwardness while you rummage around your brain for the answer.”

Describing social awkwardness

There are many words and phrases in the English language that describe social awkwardness, here are a few examples:

  • Inept: This word is used to describe a lack of social skills or ability.
  • Bumbling: This word is used to describe someone who is awkward, clumsy or inarticulate in social situations.
  • Tongue-tied: This phrase is used to describe the feeling of being unable to speak coherently or express oneself effectively in a social situation.

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Source: “Scottish word of the week: Tartle” — The Scotsman

WTF Fun Fact 13187 – Writing the Oxford English Dictionary

It’s no surprise that writing the first comprehensive dictionary (complete with linguistic and historical details) took many years. But writing the Oxford English Dictionary took many decades. To give you some perspective, it took the writers five years just to reach the word “ant.”

The history of writing the Oxford English Dictionary

The OED (as it’s abbreviated) project took a long time to get going. It all started in 1857 when members of the Philological Society of London decided that no current English dictionaries were acceptable and that they should spearhead the ultimate version. It wasn’t until 1879 that, according to the OED website (cited below) “the Society made an agreement with the Oxford University Press and James A. H. Murray to begin work on a New English Dictionary (as the Oxford English Dictionary was then known).”

The goal was to produce a 4-volume dictionary of roughly 6,400 words with every English word recorded from 1150 AD to the present. The writers estimated that the project would take 10 years.

However, after five years, the writers had just reached the word “ant” near the middle of the A section. There was a long way to go!

This was partly due to the level of detail necessary to trace the origins of words as well as their evolution. And since language never stops evolving, some work had to be redone during the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary. To this day it remains a “living document,” updated frequently.

The first part (or fascicle) of the OED was planned for an 1884 publication, but that didn’t quite work out. It would take an extra 30 years.

The dictionary required teamwork

As the team of writers grew larger, the work moved more quickly.

Murray directed a growing team and the last fascicle was published in April of 1928. Sadly, Murray did not live long enough to see the completion of the original OED since he died in 1915.

The final version of the OED was far larger than planned. It stretched to 400,000 words and phrases in 10 volumes (instead of the planned six). It continues to be updated to this day.  WTF fun facts

Source: “History of the OED” — Oxford English Dictionary

WTF Fun Fact 13102 – The Spanish National Anthem

The Spanish national anthem is one of the few national anthems with no words. The lyric-less tune, “Marcha Real,” has led to some confusion in other nations while watching events like the Olympics and World Cup as TV watchers from the U.S. tweet out things like “I can’t believe the Spanish team refuses to sing their national anthem.” But it’s not for a lack of patriotism!

The national anthems with no words

The “Marcha Real” (or Royal March”) is one of only four national anthems with no words. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and San Marino’s anthems are also instrumentals.

So, it’s rare, but it’s there. And it does tend to lead to awkward moments in stadiums as well when other teams belt out the words to their nation’s anthem. Typically, the Spanish have craftily made do with humming along or “na na na’ing” along to the tune, but players normally stand in silence.

A brief tenure during which the Spanish anthem had lyrics

According to the music website Classic FM, The ‘Marcha Real’ was composed in 1761 by Manuel de Espinosa de los Monteros. It was designed as a military march for the Spanish Infantry. King Charles III declared it the official march of Span in the 1770s, and later it was named the nation’s anthem.

There have been attempts to give it words, but none have been accepted by the government.

Classic FM notes: “During the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, the following lyrics, written by fascist poet José María Pemán, were employed.”

And it went a little something like this:

Long live Spain! Raise your arms, sons
Of the Spanish People, which rebirths anew.
Glory to the Fatherland that knew how to follow,
Over the Ocean blue, the course of the setting sun.
Triumph, Spain! The yokes and the arrows
Sing to the rhythm of the anthem of faith.
Let’s stand and sing along with them
For the new and strong life of work and peace.
Long live Spain! Raise your arms, sons
Of the Spanish People, which rebirths anew.
Glory to the Fatherland that knew how to follow,
Over the Ocean blue, the course of the setting sun.

Spain became a democracy after Franco’s death, however, and the lyrics were left behind in the ash heaps of history.  WTF fun facts

Source: “What is the Spanish national anthem, and why does it have no words?” — Classic FM