Human Interest

Gaslighting,” is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year, and quite fittingly so. The search of the term has increased 1,740% in 2022 over the year before, though there weren’t any specific events that drove significant spikes in curiosity. Usually, a specific event leads to a word being selected as Word of the Year, the Associated Press reports. The definition of gaslighting is “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.” Another usage of the word’s definition is “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.”

“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 said. “It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year.”

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.” Adding to the definition, gaslighting can be a very effective tool for the abuser to control an individual. It’s done slowly so the victim writes off the event as a one-off or oddity and doesn’t realize they are being controlled and manipulated.

The origin of the word was brought to life more than 80 years ago with Gaslight, a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton and the 1944 thriller noir movie based on that play. The plot involves a man attempting to make his wife believe that she is going insane; his mysterious activities in the attic cause the house’s gas lights to dim, but he insists to his wife that the lights are not dimming and that she can’t trust her own perceptions.

In recent years, the meaning of gaslighting also refers to something simpler and broader: “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.” In this use, the word relates to modern forms of deception and manipulation, such as fake news, deepfake and artificial intelligence. “There is this implication of an intentional deception,” Sokolowski said. “And once one is aware of that deception, it’s not just a straightforward lie, as in, you know, I didn’t eat the cookies in the cookie jar. It’s something that has a little bit more devious quality to it. It has possibly an idea of strategy or a long-term plan.”

Rounding out this year’s Top 10 are:

  • “Oligarch”
  • “Omicron”
  • “Codify”
  • “Queen consort”
  • “Raid”
  • “Sentient”
  • “Cancel culture”
  • “LGBTQIA”
  • “Loamy”

In September, Merriam-Webster announced new words added to the dictionary, which included: “adorkable,” “MacGyver,” “yeet” and “shrinkflation.”