Posted by: Jack Henry | May 5, 2022

Editor’s Corner: New Word Thursday – Sealioning

Good day to you!

The word sealioning came into my inbox recently (in an email from Dictionary.com) and I did a doubletake. I love sea lions! Who doesn’t?

Here in San Diego, we have several beautiful coastal areas where you can observe seals and sea lions in their natural habitat. All along La Jolla Cove, you can watch them sun, and swim, and play. And during the pupping season (May–June), you can get a breathtaking view of the fluffy little pups. Watching them makes me happy; after all, they’re called the dogs of the ocean. I love dogs! I love the ocean!

However, the term sealioning doesn’t portray the same happy attitude as the animals themselves. Here’s an explanation of the term from Dictionary.com:

Sealioning is a critical term for a form of trolling that involves relentlessly pestering someone with questions and requests (such as for evidence or sources), typically with the goal of upsetting them and making their position or viewpoint seem weak or unreasonable.

The verb form sealion (or sea lion) is also used.

These terms are typically applied to online contexts, such as social media, forums, and message boards (although it can also happen offline).

Sealioning often involves giving off the impression of sincere curiosity and an open mind, using polite-sounding language, and framing the questioning as part of honest intellectual debate. However, the real goal of such behavior is to irritate the other person until that person gets angry or upset, thus allowing the questioner to portray themselves as a victim as an attempt to diminish a position or viewpoint they disagree with.

I didn’t know the name of it, but this is definitely one of the reasons I have such limited online presence.

But where did the term sealioning come from? I was surprised it had such a negative connotation until the Dictionary.com article explained its origin:

The term and concept of sealioning was popularized by the 2014 webcomic “The Terrible Sea Lion” by artist David Malki. In the comic, a person states in a private conversation that they dislike sea lions. In response, a sea lion suddenly appears and relentlessly harasses the person by asking them to provide evidence that supports their negative opinion of sea lions. The sea lion pretends to be nice and reasonable while still following the person to their home and continuing to harass them, even when they are trying to sleep. When the person gets upset and asks the sea lion to leave, the sea lion claims they have done nothing to deserve such rudeness. Malki has explained that the sea lion in the comic was intended to represent certain types of behavior.

The term is now most commonly used to call out such behavior on social media, where it’s considered a specific type of trolling.

So, there you go. As so often happens, one obnoxious individual (in this case a sea lion) has ruined it for all the rest. But I don’t want you to leave with a negative impression of all seals and sea lions. I’ve lived near them all my life, and I can honestly say that every single one I’ve met has been the epitome of graciousness.

Adorable sea lion pup

An excerpt from David Malki’s “The Terrible Sea Lion.”

Donna Bradley Burcher |Technical Editor, Advisory | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

Pronouns she/her/hers

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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