'Gaslighting' Is Word of the Year, Says Merriam-Webster

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 classic "Gaslight," for which Bergman won an Oscar.Getty

The term was on a lot of lips this year and was the most-searched word of the online dictionary.

The term has been around for a very long time, but it was the most popular word of 2022, according to Merriam-Webster.

The dictionary giant announced this week that "gaslighting" was the word of the year, with online searches of it up 1,740% over last year. 

Perhaps it is a sign of the times in these mind-churning current events.

The term can be a verb, as in: John was gaslighting Mary into thinking she was losing her mind. It can also be a noun, as in: In olden times, homes were illuminated by gaslight.

But it is the verb that so intrigued visitors to Merriam-Webster's internet dictionary. The definition is: "To psychologically manipulate (a person), usually over an extended period of time, so that the victim questions the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories,  and experiences confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and doubts their own emotional or mental stability."

That explanation could also explain terms such as "fake news" and "deepfake" entering the modern lexicon.

Gaslighting dates to the 1938 play "Gaslight," which chronicles a dastardly husband's determination to make his wife think she descending into madness by turning down their home's gaslights, and then turning them up, all the while telling her there is nothing wrong with the lights.

In 1944, it became a classic film directed by George Cukor, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, who won her first of three Oscars for portraying the tortured wife who thinks she is losing her mind.

The term gained societal relevance as a description of what women suffer in abusive relationships when partners isolate them from friends, family and tear down their self-confidence by making them feel worthless.

This year, "medical gaslighting" was used to describe doctors who downplay or ignore the medical and psychological symptoms of women and minorities.

Runner-ups for word of the year included "Omicron," "oligarch," "cancel culture."

Searches for "oligarch," for example, jumped 621% as sanctions against Russian billionaire supporters of the Kremlin followed Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

But look-ups for "gaslighting" remained high throughout year, with no spikes driven by current events.

"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,'' Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor at large, told The Associated Press. 

"It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year," he said.

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