Gaslighting is the word of the year from Merriam Webster

Hailey Chin

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary announced that 2022’s word of the year is “gaslighting.” According to the dictionary, the word is defined as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.”

The website saw a 1740% increase in lookups for the word this year.

“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, MerriamWebster’s editor at large, said in an exclusive interview with the Associated Press.

The word “gaslight” originates from a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton.

George Cukor’s 1944 film adaptation, “Gaslight” stars Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist and Charles Boyer as Gregory Anton, introducing the concept of “gaslighting” to the world.

Gregory turns out to be a champion gaslighter when he discovers after the whirlwind romance following his marriage to Paula. In one instance, he insists her complaints over the constant dimming of their London townhouse’s gaslights are a figment of her troubled mind.

It wasn’t- showing a classic example of gaslighting.

Merriam-Webster’s top definition for gaslighting is the psychological manipulation of a person, usually over an extended period. It typically “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 tactic that abusers use on their victims to control them and avoid taking accountability for their actions. It can be used between romantic partners, family members and even by politicians and newsmakers. The term is currently used by mental health practitioners to “clinically describe a form of prolonged coercive control in abusive relationships.”

“There is this implication of an intentional deception,” Sokolowski said. “And once one is aware of that deception, it’s not just a straightforward lie, as in, you know, I didn’t eat the cookies in the cookie jar. It’s something that has a little bit more devious quality to it. It has possibly an idea of strategy or a long-term plan.”

An increase in public awareness for gaslighting might also be a factor for its rise to becoming the word of the year. With social media as their platform, victims can easily share their experiences and reach millions of people.

Faced with an unfamiliar term, it is evident that some would research it and educate themselves.

It becomes easier for others to identify such harmful behavior and acts. People who are being “gaslit” often do not know what is happening to them and as a result feel helpless in their relationships.

By knowing that there is a definition for what they are going through, victims of gaslighting  can put a label on their situation and their abuser.

This has helped victims better understand their abuser and the methods they use to hurt them.

Similar to how the #MeToo movement, a social movement against sexual abuse, is about being vocal on shared experiences, people telling their stories about gaslighters can reach other victims.

However, with the word becoming more incorporated in our vocabulary, the meaning can become distorted and watered down over time.

“Gaslighting isn’t lying, it’s more sinister. You become so dependent on the gaslighter that you start to gaslight yourself before believing the truth about a situation. ‘I’m sure they said that they would come tonight… but then again, my brain is mad so I’m probably wrong.’ It truly feels as though you’re going insane, and the irony, of course, is that you are the one who holds the truth,” actress Rebecca Humphries and author of “Why Did You Stay?”,  a book about the impact of being gaslit by her ex, told Vogue.

Other top words of the year include ‘oligarch’, ‘Omicron’, ‘Codify’ and ‘LGBTQIA.’