Merriam-Webster announces word of year — what is gaslighting?

Each year Merriam-Webster announces its word of the year, and this year it has chosen the word “gaslighting.”

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The dictionary company said searches for the word on its website had increased 1,740% in 2022 compared to 2021, The Associated Press reported.

While popular, Merriam-Webster said there wasn’t a single event that caused the query’s increase that is typically seen in other words-of-the-year winners.

“Gaslighting” is “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage,” according to Merriam-Webster. The word comes from a title of a play and movie where a man tries to make his wife think that she’s going insane. As the story unfolds, what the man is doing in his home’s attic causes the gas lights to dim. His wife notices, but he tells her that the lights aren’t dimming and that she can’t trust her own perceptions.

“Gaslighting” was first used in the mid-20th century and the full definition is “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.”

Merriam-Webster said that while lying is normally between individuals and fraud involves organizations, “gaslighting” is used both in a personal way as well as in the political realm. It is also being used in technical writing, as cited in a March 2022 article from The New York Times discussing “medical gaslighting.”

“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,” Merriam-Webster editor Peter Sokolowski told the AP before Monday’s announcement. “It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year.”

Merriam-Webster said that oligarch, codify, LGBTQIA, sentient, omicron, raid, loamy (and other 5-letter words thanks to the game “Wordle”), and queen consort were also popular.

Vaccine” was the word of the year for 2021, the AP reported.

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