If you’ve found yourself trying to find a word for someone’s misleading or manipulative behaviour this year, then you’re not alone: according to Merriam-Webster, “gaslighting” is the 2022 word of the year — with a 1,740 per cent increase in search for the word in 2022, and high interest throughout the year.
Related: Why getting a non-apology often feels worse than not hearing ‘sorry’ at all.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a term that has become a catch-all for types of manipulative behaviour that don’t just mislead their victims, but also make the victim question their own thoughts and reality.
Specifically, Merriam-Webster defines gaslighting 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.”
While we use the term gaslighting today to describe certain types of subtly abusive and manipulative behavior (think: someone cheats on you, then makes you feel like you’re a bad person for feeling suspicious about their shady behaviour), the word comes from more literal origins.
As Merriam-Webster describes in a post about the word of the year for 2022, “the term comes from the title of a 1938 play and the movie based on that play, the plot of which involves a man attempting to make his wife believe that she is going insane.” In the play and movie, the man’s “mysterious activities in the attic cause the house’s gas lights to dim, but he insists to his wife that the lights are not dimming and that she can’t trust her own perceptions.”
While most of us don’t light our homes by gaslight in 2022, Merriam-Webster’s secondary definition of gaslighting as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage,” still persists. In this way, Merriam-Webster points out that the word can apply to “both personal and political contexts.”
“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,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
“It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year,” he said.
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How is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year chosen?
The Merriam-Webster word of the year is chosen based only on data. According to The Associated Press, Sokolowski and team “weed out evergreen words most commonly looked up to gauge which word received a significant bump over the year before.” The word “gaslighting” has been in the top 50 of words looked up on merriam-webster.com all year so far.
Other top-searched words this year include:
- “Queen consort”
- “Cancel culture”
As we approach 2023, we can only guess as to what word will be top-of-mind in the year to come — perhaps one of these emerging dating terms will make the cut, or maybe employment and economic terms like “career cushioning” will take over.
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