Grammar

Merriam-Webster Names ‘Gaslighting’ as Word of the Year

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When it comes to words most often looked up in 2022, Merriam-Webster says ‘gaslighting’ gets the top honor, naming it Word of the Year.

Could someone manipulate you into believing something that was false? If it happened, you’d be a victim of gaslighting. The folks over at Merriam-Webster, a company that knows more than its share of details about words, say there was lot of interest in that word this year.

How much interest? Well, in 2022, the company reported a 1740% increase in lookups for gaslighting, it said in a post announcing the word as its Word of the Year. Interest in looking up the word remained high throughout the year, the company said.

“In this age of misinformation—of “fake news,” conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls,and deepfakes—gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time,” the company’s website says.

Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gas Light served as the inspiration. In the play, the overbearing Jack Manningham sets out to convince his wife, Bella, that she is going insane. His motive involves a murder and a murder victim’s missing jewels that are worth a fortune.

So how did the curious title come into play? The victim lived in an apartment above the Manninghams. When Jack disappears to search for the dead woman’s jewels, lighting the gas lighting in her apartment dims the lights in theirs. He uses the dimmed lighting that Bella complains about as a point of manipulation. He insists that the lights aren’t dimming and that Bella can’t trust her own perception.

Don’t worry: Bella manages to realize Jack’s deception and even turns the table on his criminal activities.

The play was made into a British film of the same name in 1940. The U.S. version, Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman made its debut in 1944:

An evolving definition

Merriam-Webster says the word’s definition — with respect to the manipulation meaning — began this way:

Psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator

Over time, as many definitions do, it evolved. The new definition was “something simpler and broader”:

The act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.

In this use, the company says, the word fits in with “is at home with other terms relating to “modern forms of deception and manipulation, such as fake newsdeepfake, and artificial intelligence.”

It also points out lying tends to be between individuals and fraud tends to involve organizations. But gaslighting, Merriam-Webster says, “Unlike lying, which tends to be between individuals, and fraud, which tends to involve organizations, gaslighting “applies in both personal and political contexts.”

Perhaps the greater interest in looking up the word might mean more people are aware there is such a thing. If we’re lucky, maybe more people are becoming aware enough to lose their susceptibility to being gaslighted.

That would be good news indeed.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.