Has someone GASLIGHTED you? Don’t wish if you haven’t.
According to Merriam-Webster, an American company that publishes reference books, and which named the word as its most searched online this year, “gaslighting” is an act that is performed by “a driver of disorientation and mistrust” to egregiously confuse someone, particularly for his or her own advantage.
Merriam-Webster said search volume for the term “gaslighting” increased by 1,740% in 2022.
“In this age of misinformation—of ‘fake news,’ conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes—gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time,” the company said.
The term is derived from the title of a 1938 play and the films based on that drama, both of which center on a husband trying to convince his wife that she is losing her mind.
His wife thought the gas lights in their house had dimmed because of his mysterious attic activities, but he insisted that this wasn’t the case. He told her that she can’t rely on her own senses.
When it was first used in the middle of the 20th century, it referred to a form of deception similar to what was depicted in the movie.
The use was define as ‘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.”
In recent years, however, Merriam-Webster said it noticed that the definition of gaslighting can also refer to something that is more straightforward and all-encompassing: “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own personal advantage.”
In this context, the term is synonymous with terms referring to modern forms of deception and manipulation, such as fake news, deepfake, and artificial intelligence.
“The idea of a deliberate conspiracy to mislead has made gaslighting useful in describing lies that are part of a larger plan. Unlike lying, which tends to be between individuals, and fraud, which tends to involve organizations, gaslighting applies in both personal and political contexts,” it said.
“English has plenty of ways to say ‘lie,’ from neutral terms like falsehood and untruth to the straightforward deceitfulness and the formally euphemistic prevarication and dissemble, to the innocuous-sounding fib. And the Cold War brought us the espionage-tinged disinformation,” it added.
With the explosion in the number of ways to mislead people in recent years, the term “gaslighting” has come to be widely used to describe this phenomenon.
“This is why (trust us!) it has earned its place as our Word of the Year,” Merriam-Webster said.
Other top lookups are the words oligarch, or “rule by the few”, in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine; the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet omicron to name the most recent variant of COVID-19; and codify, which refers to a process by which the U.S. Congress can make laws in connection with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24th.
LGBTQIA, meanwhile, added some letters to the older and more familiar abbreviations LGBT and LGBTQ, with the full abbreviation standing for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (one’s sexual or gender identity), intersex, and asexual/aromantic/agender.”
Merriam-Webster said that during the entirety of June, which is Pride Month and a time when LGBTQ people all over the world celebrate their rights, equality, and culture, the abbreviation was looked up a lot more frequently, or up 1178%, than usual.
When a Google engineer claimed in June that the company’s AI chatbot had developed a human-like consciousness, searches for the word sentient increased by 480%.
Google vigorously denied the claim, and the engineer was placed on paid leave, but the question of how human-like AI is, or will be, became a hot topic.
Lookups for the word loamy (loam+clay, silt, and sand) also increased after it was used as an answer in a Quordle Wordle word puzzle game on August 29, 2022.
The words Queen Consort also logged in a high search after Queen Elizabeth II’s death and Camilla Parker Bowles was given the title as the wife of King Charles III.
“Since England had not had a king since 1952, it’s understandable that this title was unfamiliar. Camilla is not the successor to the Queen, but is instead the wife of the reigning king. A parallel title for the husband of a reigning queen, prince consort, was the title held by the late Prince Philip,” Merriam-Webster stated.