In 2022, the number of searches for the term “gaslighting” in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary increased by 1,740%.
On the resource, “gaslighting” is defined as “the act or practice of grossly misleading anyone, especially for one’s own benefit.” Merriam-Webster calls it a top term in 2022, also because it has now become “the favorite word for the perception of deception.”
“Gaslighting” also encompasses some other general terms that we commonly associate with disinformation, including the words “deepfakes” and “fake news.”
How did the word “gaslighting” appear?
We can thank the play of 1938 and the film of 1944 called “Gaslight” / Gaslight for the appearance of this term. In both works, the husband tries to deceive his wife by making her think that she is crazy. He assures the woman that the gas lights in their house (flickering while he’s doing “nefarious things” in the attic) aren’t actually going out.
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Both the play and the film were wildly popular: the former ran for more than 1,000 Broadway productions, and the 1944 film was nominated for best picture and won an Oscar for actress Ingrid Bergman.
In the context of the film, “gaslighting” means “psychological manipulation of a person for a long time, which makes the victim doubt reality.”
“Gaslighting” in politics and media
“Gaslighting” has become a common term in the last few years, especially in the age of misinformation, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary website. In 2017, a CNN columnist said President Donald Trump was “gaslighting all of us” after he denied several public statements. CNN used the word again in 2021 to describe how Trump downplayed the January 6 storming of the Capitol.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, gaslighting is also a form of emotional abuse.
The New York Times this year wrote about “medical gaslighting” — when doctors discharge some patients, particularly women and black people, by downplaying the severity of their symptoms.
The word continued to infiltrate popular media this year: Gaslit is the title of the Julia Roberts-starring series set during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.The Watergate scandal is a political scandal in the United States of 1972-1974, which ended with the resignation of the country’s president, Richard Nixon, the only resignation of a president in the history of the United States.
The young, rich characters of Bodies Bodies Bodies also accuse each other of gaslighting as tensions rise. The HBO satirical series The White Lotus and the recent film Don’t Worry Darling (both Warner Bros. Discovery) also feature characters gaslighting each other.
Other popular words of 2022
Among other popular 2022 terms, the online dictionary emphasizes words that reflect specific events or episodes. “Gaslighting”, in turn, belongs to a phenomenon that is not fleeting, but rather rooted in our lives, they write on the Merriam-Webster website.
- Oligarch / Oligarch
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, countries including the United States and Great Britain imposed sanctions against Russian oligarchs and their families. Searches for the word increased by 621% in early March 2022.
The war in Ukraine also caused a spike in searches for the words “Sanctions,” “Armageddon,” and “Conscript.”
The World Health Organization uses Greek letters (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) to denote the variations of COVID. In November 2021, they chose “omicron”, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. This variant became one of the most common forms of COVID in 2022.
In 2022, searches for the word increased 193% year-over-year thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade on June 24.Roe v. Wade is a historic US Supreme Court decision that affirms that the US Constitution protects a pregnant woman’s freedom to have an abortion free from government restrictions. Codification means the process by which Congress can make laws; the word literally means “to compile a code.”
The acronym LGBTQIA adds several letters to the older and more common acronyms LGBT and LGBTQ, with the full acronym meaning “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.” This acronym was searched for frequently (up 1,178%) throughout June, Pride Month, a global celebration of LGBTQIA rights, equality and culture.
- The creature is intelligent / Sentient
In June, when a Google engineer announced that the company’s AI chatbot had developed human-like consciousness, searches for the word “sentient” increased by 480%.
- Loamy / Loamy
A word in the popular puzzles Wordle and Quordle, the definition of which games have often poisoned the dictionary.
When the FBI searched former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in early August, some called the event a “raid,” resulting in a 970% increase in searches for the word.
- Queen Consort / Queen Consort
The death of Queen Elizabeth II ended an era and became the center of international attention. Public interest in the monarchy is often linked to ceremonies and rituals, including coronations, royal weddings and funerals. The announcement of the Queen’s death recognized the new King and his wife Camilla, who was awarded the title of Queen Consort, and the term quickly rose to the top of searches.
Source: CNN, Merriam-Webster