Popular dictionary Merriam-Webster released its 2022 word of the year on Monday. The term “Gaslight” had a 1740% increase in lookups for the year.
Merriam-Webster defines the verb as, “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 concerning their own emotional or mental stability.”
The second definition is listed as, “to grossly mislead or deceive (someone) especially for one’s own advantage.”
Merriam-Webster added that it “is at home with other terms relating to modern forms of deception and manipulation, such as fake news, deepfake, and artificial intelligence.”
According to the dictionary, the term originates from the title of a 1938 play “Gas Light” and the movie based on it. The plot centers around a man attempting to make his wife believe she is going insane. His actions make the lights in their home dim, but he insists to his wife that the lights are not dimming and she cannot trust her own sight.
“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,” Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski told the Associated Press. “It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year.”
The term rose into popular culture in recent years. Dallas-based country music band The Chicks titled their 2020 album, “Gaslighter.” A Starz limited series set during the Watergate scandal was entitled “Gaslit.” The New York Times released an article on “medical gaslighting.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers resources for survivors on recognizing gaslighting which they deem an “extremely effective form of emotional abuse.”
“There is this implication of an intentional deception,” Sokolowski said of the term. “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.”
Merriam-Webster, which was founded in 1831 by George and Charles Merriam, chooses its word of the year solely based on data.
“Gaslighting” spent all of 2022 in the top 50 words looked up on the website according to Sokolowski.
Other popular searches included “codify,” “cancel culture,” and “oligarch.” The word of the year in 2021 was “vaccine,” preceded by 2020’s word which was “pandemic.”