It’s not that surprising that Miriam-Webster Dictionary chose gaslighting as its word of the year.
The term first gained use in the mid-twentieth century due to a play and a subsequent film called Gaslight.
Its definition then, according to Miriam-Webster, was:
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 the movie Gaslight, Charles Boyer plays the evil husband who tries to convince his wife (Ingrid Bergman) that she is going insane so that he can get at her fortune. One way is that he dims the house’s gas lights, but he insists to his wife that the lights are not dimming and that she can’t trust her own perceptions.
I recommend the film. Here’s a brief clip from it:
Back then, gaslighting was mostly associated with domestic abuse, with men as perps and women as victims. Big surprise. But in recent years, gaslighting has taken on a broader, more general definition: “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.” Thus, its relevance to 2022.
The remake of the movie would likely star such luminaries as Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, Kari Lake, and a cast of election deniers, lying politicians, and others who are willing to mislead, lie, and deny in the face of contrary evidence. Also, appearances by domestic abusers, since that doesn’t seem to be abating much.
Miriam-Webster isn’t the only dictionary that crowns a word of the year. Collins dictionary chose permacrisis, a word (which I didn’t know existed, nor did my spellcheck) “describing the feeling of living through a period of war, inflation, and political instability.”
The Cambridge Dictionary selected homer as the word of the year, a reference to hitting a home run in baseball. It can also refer to an official who favors the home team. It’s a strange choice for word of the year, but it was looked up about a billion times in one day by Wordle players who didn’t know it as the answer to the game.
We’ve all probably done some gaslighting and been on the receiving end as well. I was tempted to gaslight Harriet once, and someone a long time ago in messed up relationship tried to gaslight me into doing their bidding. I narrowly escaped.
I wish gaslight didn’t have to be the word of the year. I’d rather it have been integrity, or empathy, or generosity. But I guess that’s not the world we live in right now. Still, we can all choose our own word of the year. I’m going to go with resilience. It means the ability to recover or bounce back quickly from setbacks or difficulties. Maybe not bounce back quickly in my case, but eventually. What’s your word of the year?