Merriam-Webster’s ‘pervasive’ 2022 word of the year: ‘Gaslighting’

In a world in which no one trusts the media and people on both sides of the political spectrum are accusing the other side of running “psy-ops” on American citizens, it is probably not surprising that, in 2022, the most looked-up word on Merriam-Webster was  “gaslighting.”

Compared with 2021, lookups for the term increased by 1,740%, according to the Associated Press.

“But something else happened,” AP reported. “There wasn’t a single event that drove significant spikes in the curiosity, as it usually goes with the chosen word of the year.”

“The gaslighting was pervasive,” the outlet states.

The finding shocked even Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, Peter Sokolowski.

“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,” he told the AP ahead of Monday’s official unveiling. “It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year.”

According to Merriam-Webster’s website, “gaslighting” is defined as the “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.”

The term entered the global zeitgeist following the 1944 release of the movie “Gaslight,” starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, in which the smooth-talking 1880’s husband of a grieving woman attempts to drive her insane in order to rob her of a fortune.

(Video: YouTube)

In the movie, based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play, “Gas Light,” Paula Alquist, played brilliantly by Bergman, is convinced she’s having a nervous breakdown. For example, Alquist’s new husband, Gregory Anton, played by Boyer, gives her jewelry, then steals it back and chides her for being so careless as to lose it.

But it is the dimming of her London townhome’s gas-powered lights that drive Alquist to the brink of madness. Her supposedly loving husband insists it’s a figment of her imagination, making her doubt her own reality.

In later years, the term “gaslighting” would be used by those in the mental health field to describe the manipulative, deceptive tactics used by clinical sociopaths and narcissists to coerce and control their trusting partners in toxic, abusive relationships.

Today, it is often used to describe Democratic talking points, which often seem to will Americans to deny their own experiences.

The “mostly peaceful” 2020 riots following the death of George Floyd spring to mind.

It’s a tactic the mainstream media has elevated to a veritable art form.

It has invaded nearly every aspect of the national conversation, from COVID-19 measures to the trans revolution to the economy.

Some would go so far as to say President Joe Biden has, since entering the White House, perfected it.

“There is this implication of an intentional deception,” Sokolowski said of the word. “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.”

But the award for “word of the year” isn’t being given to “gaslighting” for political purposes.

Merriam-Webster “chooses its word of the year based solely on data,” the AP reports, and “gaslighting,” according to Sokolowski, spent the entirety of 2022 in the top 50 words looked up.

It could be worse. Last year, the most frequently looked-up word was “vaccine.”

Melissa Fine


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