For whatever reason,1 I had to refresh my knowledge of the origin of the term “hermetically sealed” today on my lunch break. I vaguely recollected that it had something to do with alchemy and Hermes Trismegistus, but forgot…well, whatever it was that connected them. I was going to write this one out, but then I found a blog post on Mashed Radish that had already done most of the work for me, so go read it there!
A few questions I did have about this, though. Googling around, it seems like it’s one of those muddy words where it’s not entirely clear how specifically, and in what order, it came to mean “airtight” in addition to “crazy freaking magic.” Some explanations are pointing specifically to Hermes Trismegistus, as a person associated with this seal, and others to alchemy more generally, as in “sealed by alchemy.” Additionally, when the word loses the “sealed” formation, but retains the sense of isolation, and is used in the context of a “hermetic society,” for example, I wonder if there’s some kind of semiotic feedback going on with the occult sense as well.
The things you can learn2 over lunch!