Word of the Month: Gaslighting

David Zapatka

Reader Greg West writes, “Merriam-Webster has announced its word of the year for 2022. Over the past year, this word has increased in the number of lookups it has received at a rate of 1,740% in 2022 compared to its lookup rate in 2021. Oddly enough though, unlike the typical word of the year, this word’s popularity and lookup rate weren’t driven by any particular single event. The 2022 Merriam-Webster word of the year is … Gaslighting.”

Gaslighting noun gas·light·ing gas-ˌlī-tiŋ 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 2. the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage

Origin and Etymology: The origins of gaslighting are colorful: the term comes from the title of a 1938 play and the movies based on that play, the plots of which involve a man attempting to make his wife believe that she is going insane. His 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.

When gaslighting was first used in the mid-20th century, it referred to a kind of deception like that in the plots mentioned above. In the current century, the word has come to refer also to something simpler and broader: “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.”

The idea of a deliberate conspiracy to mislead has made gaslighting useful in describing lies that are part of a larger plan. Unlike lying, which tends to be between individuals, gaslighting applies in both personal and political contexts and is found in formal and technical writing, as well as in colloquial use.

First Known Use: 1961

Gaslighting used in a sentence:

Election season can create emotions spanning from immense anxiety all the way to extreme apathy. The public arguing, divisiveness, and competition for votes, including political gaslighting, can be overwhelming and exhausting—Vernita Perkins and Leonard A. Jason

As the midterm elections approach, Americans have gotten an earful both about crime itself and how the other side is distorting the news about it for political gain. “Cherry-picking!” “Fearmongering!” “Gaslighting!”—Chris Herrmann and Fritz Umbach

Intense gaslighting techniques are making it difficult for Montana’s commoners to discern what’s truth and what’s propaganda—Steve Kelly

This corporate gaslighting effectively blames children for being addicted to social media and conveniently ignores how companies have intentionally designed their products to have addictive features …—Nancy Kim

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