While the word “gaslighting” has been in the cultural zeitgeist for some years, Merriam-Webster has only now declared it the word of the year for 2022.
CNN reports that the dictionary company defines gaslight as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own advantage.” Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic that one can use to make others think they’re wrong for a “larger plan,” per Merriam-Webster. Additionally, gaslighting encompasses other terms signifying misinformation like “deep-fakes” and “fake news.”
In addition to politics, the word gaslighting is also a strategy often employed in emotionally abusive situations, where “psychological manipulation of a person” takes place “over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question” the truth. The term is also used in the medical world, applied to situations where patients’—particularly women, Black people, and people of color—medical issues are minimized.
While it might be a surprise that gaslighting is this year’s word, the company explains that the term became the “favored word for the perception of deception.” Merriam-Webster also said that the number of searches for the word increased by 1740 percent this year.
The origin of the word stems from a 1938 play and 1944 film titled Gaslight, where, according to CNN, “a nefarious man attempts to trick his new wife into thinking she’s losing her mind, in part by telling her that the gaslights in their home, which dim when he’s in the attic doing dastardly deeds, are not fading at all.” The play and film were beloved, with the movie being nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
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