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“Gaslighting”—mind-manipulating, highly deceptive, downright deceptive behavior—is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year.
Searches for the word on merriam-webster.com increased 1,740 percent in 2022 over the previous year. But something else happened. There wasn’t a single event that generated significant spikes in curiosity, as is usually the case with the chosen word of the year.
Gas lighting was ubiquitous.
“It’s a word that has grown so quickly in the English language, and especially in the last four years, that it was actually a surprise to me and to a lot of us,” said Peter Sokolowski, editor-in-chief of Merriam-Webster, before. of Monday’s disclosure.
“It was a frequently searched word every day of the year,” he said.
There were deepfakes and the dark web. There were deep states and fake news. And there was a lot of trolling.
Merriam-Webster’s top definition of gaslighting is the 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 usually leads to confusion , loss. of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of emotional or mental stability and dependence on the perpetrator”.
More broadly, the dictionary defines the word as: “The act or practice of misleading someone, especially to one’s own advantage.”
Gaslighting is a heinous tool frequently used by relationship abusers – and by politicians and other newsmakers. It can happen between romantic partners, within the wider family unit and between friends. It can be a corporate tactic or a way to mislead the public. There’s also “medical gaslighting,” when a health professional dismisses a patient’s symptoms or illness as “all in your head.”
Despite its relatively recent importance—including Gas lighterThe Chicks’ 2020 album, which features the wildly angry title single – the word came to life more than 80 years ago with Gas lighta 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton.
It spawned two film adaptations in the 1940s. One, by George Cukor Gas lamp in 1944, it starred Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist and Charles Boyer as Gregory Anton. The two marry after a romance, and Gregory turns out to be a gas champion. Among other things, he insists that her complaints about the constant dimming of the gas lights in their London home are a figment of her troubled mind. It was not.
Angela Lansbury’s death in October sparked some interest in word searches, Sokolowski said. She played Nancy Oliver, a young maid employed by Gregory who told him not to disturb his “indulgent” wife.
The term gaslighting was later used by mental health practitioners to clinically describe a form of prolonged coercive control in abusive relationships.
“There is this implication of intentional deception,” Sokolowski said. “And once someone is aware of that deception, it’s not just a simple lie, as in, you know, I didn’t eat the cookies in the cookie jar. It’s something that has a slightly more perverse quality to it. He possibly has an idea of strategy or a long-term plan.”
Merriam-Webster, which records 100 million page views per month on its website, chooses its word of the year based solely on data. Sokolowski and his team weed out the evergreen words they most frequently looked up to assess which word had received significant growth over the previous year.
They don’t cut into why people look up words, which can be anything from quick spell checks and definitions to some kind of attempt at inspiration or motivation. Some of the crowds who searched for “gaslighting” this year simply wanted to know if it was one or two words or if it was hyphenated.
“Gaslighting,” Sokolowski said, spent all of 2022 in the top 50 words searched on merriam-webster.com to earn word of the year status. Last year’s choice was “vaccine”. Completing this year’s Top 10 are:
- “Oligarch”, led by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- “Omicron”, the persistent variant of Covid 19 and the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
- “Codify,” as in making abortion rights federal law.
- “The Queen Consort” as King Charles’ wife Camilla is now known.
- “Raid,” as in the search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.
- “Sentient,” with Google searches claiming the engineer who claimed an unreleased AI system had become sentient.
- “Cancel the culture,” said enough.
- “LGBTQIA”, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual, aromantic or asexual.
- “Loamy”, which many Wordle users tried in August, although the correct word that day was “clown”.