A pelegada bolsonarista

From N. N. Taleb’s Twitter feed, a retweet:

Imagina quando o Taleb descobrir que a pelegada bolsonarista que prega o não uso da máscara se diz antifrágil?

Which, I think, translates approximately into this:

Imagine when Taleb discovers that the Bolsonaro crowd preaching the non-use of masks calls itself antifragile?

Very approximately, I said, since the Portuguese word pelegada is not found in bilingual dictionaries. The dictionaries Dicio and Priberam explain its meaning(s) in Portuguese but we’ll need to dig a little deeper than the dictionary entries.

It’s more or less clear that a pelegada should be a collection of pelegos, but what or who are those? Literally, “sheepskins used over the saddle.” Judging by Google’s image search results, today it also refers to real and imitation sheepskins used as covers and carpets.

These are the less literate meanings of pelego relevant to our case: a rural worker or resident; a doormat or toady; a trade union activist doing the government’s bidding. According to the Dicionário inFormal:

The term pelego became popular during the Vargas era, in the 1930s. Imitating the Labor Charter of the Italian Fascist Mussolini, Getúlio [Vargas] enacted by decree the Syndicalization Law in 1931, subordinating trade unions to the Ministry of Labor. A pelego was a union leader trusted by the government who would guarantee the organization’s harnessing to the state. Decades later, the term returned into use under the military dictatorship. Pelego became a union leader nominated by the military, the ultimate example of the so-called “brown unionism.” The word that had referred, in old times, to the skin or cloth that softened the contact between the horseman and the saddle became synonymous with a traitor to the workers and an ally of the government and the bosses.

Here’s a brief 2003 article from the Folha de São Paulo with more background on the evolution of the term.

The trade unionists’ subservience gave another meaning to the word pelego: apart from the skin of a ram that alleviated the impact of the rider and the horse on each other, it came to denote the trade unionists who dedicated themselves to “shock-absorbing” conflicts between employers and employees.

To sum up, pelegada seems a pretty pejorative way of describing Bolsonaro’s henchmen and fans.

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