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Word of the year perfectly fits the misinformation age: Gaslighting

Merriam-Webster named their word of the year for 2022: gaslighting. In this misinformation age, it became one of the most searched terms, defined as the “practice of grossly misleading someone.”

Gaslighting: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year

Merriam-Webster named gaslighting as its word of the year this week. The term had a staggering 1,740 percent increase in searches in its online dictionary in 2022 and saw sustained interest throughout the year. In fact, the word remained in the top 50 list of most-searched words for all of 2022, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Definition of gaslighting

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary offers two definitions for the term gaslighting.

1. “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.”

Example: He used gaslighting, telling her she was paranoid, to make her believe her suspicions were fantasy.

2. “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.”

Example: Politicians use gaslighting to distort facts to create the illusion of truth.

Origin of gaslighting

The term comes from the title of a 1938 play – Gas Light – written by Patrick Hamilton, first made into a movie in 1939, followed by the more popular 1943 remake starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten. The plot involves a man attempting to make his wife believe she is going insane as he tries to keep a secret hidden. She sees the gas lights dimming, but he insists they are not, and she begins to mistrust her own perceptions. In reality, his mysterious activities in the attic are causing the gas lights in the house to dim.

According to Merriam-Webster, in the mid-20th century, when the term gaslighting was first used, it referred to the type of deception that occurred in the movie – meaning psychological manipulation that causes the victim to question their perceptions (as in definition #1 above).

But in more recent years, the term expanded to refer to something broader and simpler – misleading someone, especially for personal advantage.

The modern definition of gaslighting also relates to other modern forms of manipulation and deception, such as fake news or a deepfake (which is connected to artificial intelligence or AI).

Gaslighting: A reflection of the misinformation age

We now live in what was formally called the information age, which has transformed into the misinformation age. Gaslighting is something that is frequently employed as a technique by politicians, media, and corporations, as well as the entertainment industry.