“Gaslighting” – mind manipulating, grossly misleading, downright deceitful – is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. Lookups for the word on merriam-webster.com increased 1,740 percent 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. The 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 exclusive interview with The Associated Press.“It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year,” he said.
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 birthed 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.
Merriam-Webster, which logs 100 million pageviews a month on its site, chooses its word of the year based solely on data.
Last year’s pick was “vaccine.”
Rounding out this year’s Top 10 are: “Oligarch,” “Omicron,” “Codify,” “Queen consort,” “Raid,” “Sentient,” “Cancel culture,” “LGBTQIA” and “Loamy.”