Sir David Wilkie, Three Studies for Photography, date unknown.


“Sealing” began to take on a figurative meaning: the vigorous act of sealing is similar to the action of nullifying the opponent, who would be unable to react when confronted.

"Whoever makes decisions as a man of state is not behind the sealing”. This was one of the impactful phrases recently delivered by Finance Minister Fernando Haddad (PT), in a session of the Chamber's Finance and Taxation Committee. At the same meeting, he also told another deputy: “Close the door to listen to [retail entrepreneurs] and stop seal on the network".

In his apparent crusade against sealing, the minister makes us think about how the use of the term “sealing” and its cognates can be an example of how even linguistic changes occur at an accelerated rate amid the excess of communication we experience. In just under a decade, we could witness the rise and fall of this semantic neologism, which stopped being associated with the pride of discriminated groups and started to be used strictly, by different political actors, in a pejorative sense.

First act – “sealing” and “tumbling”

The possibility of associating words due to similarities in their meaning allows them to be classified in what linguistic studies call a “semantic field”. To understand the recent occurrences of the term “sealing”, it is important to consider that, around the middle of the last decade, it did not emerge alone, but in addition to another term in the same field: “listing”. Both words (in addition to their cognates, such as “seal” and “tombar”), in these contexts of use, can be associated with the idea of ​​“confrontation”.

In the case of the verb “tombar”, it became recurrent that its use had an implicit accusative complement, identified with the barriers used to make non-hegemonic bodies (black, female, queers). Wearing flashy clothes and makeup or sporting hairstyles of African origin are examples of practices linked to the notion of “tumbling”, as they are self-affirmation strategies used to, metaphorically, “overturn” (“tumble”) the restrictions of an exclusionary society.

In a similar way, “sealing” also began to take on a figurative meaning: the vigorous act of sealing is similar to the action of nullifying the opponent, who would be unable to react when confronted. In the lyrics of “Bixa Preta”, released in 2017 by artist Linn da Quebrada, the lyricist explains this confrontation: “When she’s passing by/ Everyone laughs at her face, but if you pay attention/ Pay close attention/ Sit and watch her your destruction.” Later, in the same lyrics, she adds: “They fall, close, cause/ They are a lot of sealing”.

In a process of specialization of meaning, “sealing” began to refer more specifically to the discursive universe, meaning something like “presenting irrefutable arguments, ending a discussion” – especially in debates in virtual environments. What was “leaving without reaction” (contained by a seal, closure) becomes “leaving without response”. In this sense, as a form of resistance to a history of suffering and discrimination, the so-called “tombamento generation” sought to nullify the opponent, with “sealing” as one of its strategies.

Second act – the conservative reaction

As semantic neologisms, “lacração” and its cognates appear ideologically positioned, as they are associated with agendas that, in Brazilian reality, are mostly incorporated by left-wing groups. As a result, the popularization of these words had as one of its effects the disqualification of the terms themselves by their antagonists, positioned on the right in the public debate.

On social media, the expression “you just want to seal it” has become frequent to refute positions in defense of equality and diversity. As an example, we cite one of the criticisms directed at actor Maicon Rodrigues, when he associated the lower projection of black singers with racism: “the case with this false militancy is that the people just want 'seal' to generate buzz with names that are in the media".

In these uses, the act of “sealing” is understood as a discursive resource aimed at attracting attention, without more effective relationships with reality. The “sealer” would simply be someone looking for the spotlight, likes, visibility. Discrediting the very concept of “sealing”, therefore, becomes an argumentative strategy ad hominem to ban the debate, as the supposed “sealers” would not be sincere and respectable debaters.

Last act – the sealers are the others

In the so-called progressive camp, Fernando Haddad is no exception in attributing a pejorative meaning to “sealing”. Recently, minister Paulo Pimenta accused the mayor of the city of Farroupilha of trying to “seal internet” when he released, in a decontextualized way, an excerpt from a phone call from the federal authority.

In both examples, it is observed that the conservative resignification was successful in disqualifying the term sealing and its correlates. Born in a leftist cradle to name a certain fight against prejudice, the words became associated with the construction of impactful, but empty, positions. In this sense, any opponent, of any ideological hue, can be considered a “sealer”, thus altering the meaning attributed to “sealing” in Linn da Quebrada’s verses, cited above.

Epilogue – “The whole world is made up of change”

As stating the obvious has become increasingly important, it doesn't hurt to remember that yes, languages ​​change: everyday use, the search for expressiveness, contacts between groups and cultures foster the dynamism of a language. In this specific case, however, the speed of change draws attention.

In an era marked by the profusion of connections, would the pace of linguistic changes also be accelerating? In a historical moment in which people communicate so much, can certain linguistic uses change more quickly? The recent history of the term “sealing” makes us wonder if, as the 16th century poet wrote, “one no longer changes as it sounds”.

*Henrique Santos Braga He holds a PhD in Philology and Portuguese Language from USP.

*Marcelo Modolo is professor of philology at the University of São Paulo (USP).

A first version of this article was published in Journal of USP [].

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