Gaslighting, mind manipulating, grossly misleading, downright deceitful is Merriam Webster word of the year. According to Merriam Webster lookups for the word increased 1,740% in 2022 over the year before. But something else happened. There wasn't a single event that drove significant spikes in the curiosity, as it usually goes with the chosen word of the year. But gaslighting was pervasive.
It's a word that has risen so quickly in the English language, and especially in the last four years, that it actually came as a surprise to me and to many of us, said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor at large, in an interview with AP.
It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year, he said.
There were deep-fakes and the dark web. There were deep states and fake news. And there was a whole lot of trolling.
Merriam-Webster's top definition for 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 typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one's emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.
Gaslighting is a heinous tool frequently used by abusers in relationships — and by politicians and other newsmakers. It can happen between romantic partners, within a broader family unit and among friends. It can be a corporate tactic, or a way to mislead the public. There's also medical gaslighting, when a health care professional dismisses a patient's symptoms or illness as all in your head.
Despite its relatively recent prominence — including Gaslighter, The Chicks' 2020 album featuring the rousingly angry titular single — the word was brought to life more than 80 years ago with Gas Light, a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton.
It gave birth to two film adaptations in the 1940s. One, George Cukor's Gaslight in 1944, starred Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist and Charles Boyer as Gregory Anton. The two marry after a whirlwind romance and Gregory turns out to be a champion gaslighter. Among other instances, he insists her complains over the constant dimming of their London townhouse's gaslights is a figment of her troubled mind. It wasn't.