USA TODAY US Edition
‘Gaslighting’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year
Merriam-Webster has announced its 2022 word of the year: “gaslighting.”
Gaslighting – defined broadly as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage” – gained significant interest throughout the year. Searches for the word increased 1,740%, the dictionary publisher said.
“The increase in dictionary lookups for gaslighting is striking,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, said in a press release Monday. “In our age of misinformation – “fake news,” conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes – gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time.”
According to Merriam-Webster, the origins of the term “gaslighting” date to a 1938 play – “which involves a man attempting to make his wife believe that she is going insane.”
In this original context, MerriamWebster defines gaslighting as a “psychological manipulation of a person” – which can cause that person “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.”
But, the publisher notes, the meaning of gaslighting has expanded even further in recent years. Gaslighting today can relate to deception, manipulation and misinformation across personal and political contexts, for example, and is heightened by growing technology.
“From politics to pop culture to relationships, it has become a favored word for the perception of deception,” Sokolowski said, jokingly adding, “On the subject of gaslighting ... we do hope you’ll trust us.”
Merriam-Webster chooses its word of the year based on data. Sokolowski explained to The Associated Press that he and his team gauge which words received a significant spike in interest over the year before while weeding out evergreen terms that are most commonly looked up.
Last year’s word of the year was “vaccine,” which saw a 601% increase in lookups over the year before.