a rare unsealing - is this even a noun?


Source: http://news.yahoo.com/us-threatened-yahoo-huge-fine-over-surveillance-212454410.html

U.S. authorities threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day if it failed to comply with a secret surveillance program requiring it to hand over user data in the name of national security, court documents showed Thursday.

The documents, made public in a rare unsealing by a secretive court panel, "underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US government's surveillance efforts," Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell said in a blog post that will again raise privacy concerns.

First of all, what does that word exactly mean because dictionaries don't seem to have this word listed in them? And could please tell me how the author came up with that word on his own? Like, what are the mechanics of creating nouns like this one out of their verb forms?

Michael Rybkin

Posted 2014-09-12T10:09:04.717

Reputation: 37 124

What dictionaries are you looking in? http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unseal http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/unseal Unsealing is just the gerund form.

– user8543 – 2014-09-12T10:15:08.850

@user8543 Both of those dictionaries redirect to unseal when querying unsealing, and don't list the gerund as a related form. Contrast this with how they behave when looking up a more common gerund. For example, running has its own dedicated entry; watching and hearing are listed as related forms and/or used in examples. If we allow that learners might not have a full command of English grammar, it's very easy to understand why unsealing might not appear to be a "real" word. – Esoteric Screen Name – 2014-09-12T11:17:13.760

@EsotericScreenName On the other hand, walked redirects to walk and I still don't think a question about what walked means would be accepted. – oerkelens – 2014-09-12T12:47:24.363



The documents, made public in [a rare unsealing] by a secretive court panel, . . .

Yes, as you've already figured out, the phrase "a rare unsealing" is a noun phrase (NP) -- which is evident from the use of the article "a". The presence of a determiner (e.g. "a", "the") is one way of determining that. (This is a diagnostic test that can be used to help identify whether a phrase is an NP or not.)

Often an NP will be headed by a noun. But not all NPs will actually have a noun in them as its head (e.g. "Where are the sausages? Did you buy [some] yesterday?" which has a determiner-head in a fused-head construction, CGEL page 410). It so happens that in your NP, there is the adjective "rare" modifying the word "unsealing", and since:

  • "Nouns are characteristically modified by adjectives, but the corresponding modifiers of verbs are adverbs" (CGEL page 82)

that seems to indicate that the word "unsealing" is a noun (which is the head of your NP) -- more specifically, that noun is a gerundial noun. (This is another diagnostic test that can often be helpful.)

There is another (3rd) diagnostic test that can be used here to help verify that the word "unsealing" is a noun: plural inflection

  • "Gerundial nouns can very often inflect for plural, as in These killings must stop. This is never possible with the verbs: * Killings the birds must stop." (CGEL page 82)

and in your case, there can be plural inflection: "The documents, made public in [two rare unsealings] by a secretive court panel, . . ." -- which means that the word "unsealing" in your example is a noun.

As for your questions:

QUESTION: First of all, what does that word exactly mean because dictionaries don't seem to have this word listed in them? And could please tell me how the author came up with that word on his own?

ANSWER: There is a verb lexeme "unseal" in many dictionaries.

QUESTION: Like, what are the mechanics of creating nouns like this one out of their verb forms?

ANSWER: One way is to have that word be the head of a noun phrase, as the writer of that article had done.

Note that CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL).


Posted 2014-09-12T10:09:04.717

Reputation: 5 118


The -ing suffix added to a verb turns it into a noun. Say -> saying, show - showing.

The movie had three showings on Saturday.

That is a common saying.

The un- prefix indicates a negating, a removing, or an undoing: "untie your shoelaces and tie them again".

Documents made secret by a court are said to be "sealed" or "under seal".

The word "unsealing" (which means, in context, to make a secret document public) is analogous to "unmasking", to remove the mask from, to undo the seal.

If Batman's mask is removed by Penguin, so that all the world knows it's Bruce Wayne under there, he might say to Penguin, "I will never forgive you for this unmasking".


Posted 2014-09-12T10:09:04.717

Reputation: 116 610


The word was created to describe the situation. It comes from the verb unseal, which means:

to reveal or free (something concealed or closed as if sealed).

In this case, the thing being revealed is the information in the documents.

These types of nouns are either called, or are a type of, deverbal nouns.

For example, hearing: an event in which sides of a story, usually legal or business, are heard.

Lewis Heslop

Posted 2014-09-12T10:09:04.717

Reputation: 651

Down-voter reasoning? – Lewis Heslop – 2014-09-12T11:23:22.140

The author of the article did not coin the word unsealing, and you've only defined unseal without explaining anything about the difference between the verb and gerund (a link is not an answer). Also, please do not use code formatting for quotes, highlighting or emphasis. Use the intended tools: blockquote, bold and italics. – Esoteric Screen Name – 2014-09-12T11:23:28.573

I don't know why you keep referring to the gerund. This has nothing to do with gerunds, for an explanation see; "Distinction from other uses of the -ing form" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerund

Also, the author did coin the word. Deverbal nouns are often coined, and this is no exception, I challenge you to find the dictionary entry of this as a noun.

Additionally, the question never asked for an explanation of the difference between the two. It asked how to create such a noun, and the link has an explanation to that in the first paragraph.

Finally, thanks for the pettiness.

– Lewis Heslop – 2014-09-12T11:27:46.847

@esoteric Do you disagree? – Lewis Heslop – 2014-09-12T11:53:18.543