“You’re so dramatic.”
“I was just joking!”
If these phrases trigger your fight or flight, it’s for good reason.
They’re quips that are perfect examples of “gaslighting,” a term that has been crowned Word of the Year by Merriam-Webster.
And no — you’re not just imagining things.
I’m sure you’re just imagining it
— David Braz (@dvdbraz) November 28, 2022
According to the online dictionary, 2022 saw a 1740% increase in lookups for “gaslighting,” with high interest throughout the year.
Is this a depressing indication of what we’ve all been going through this year? Maybe.
I be gaslighting god like “ if you real you wouldn’t do this to me”
— A D 🌟 (@hoesluvad) November 28, 2022
So, why were there so many searches for the word, and what’s the history behind it?
Stop being so sensitive, and read on to find out.
What does it mean and where did it originate?
Merriam-Webster has two definitions for the noun “gaslighting.”
The first aligns more with the origins of the word:
“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 was first used in a 1938 play on Broadway, and its 1944 film adaptation, Gaslight, which follows a man attempting to manipulate his wife into thinking that she’s going insane.
His suspicious activities in their attic cause the house’s gas lights to dim, but he insists to his wife that the lights aren’t dimming, making her think she can’t trust her own perceptions.
The popular film earned an Academy Award nomination for best picture, and entrenched “gaslighting” into the English vernacular.
Nowadays, the term is frequently used to describe the actions of an abuser’s attempt to control an individual.
While that definition still rings true, Merriam-Webster has seen the meaning of “gaslighting” evolve to something simpler and broader:
“The act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.”
The dictionary says this expands its definition to modern forms of deception and manipulation including fake news, deepfake, and artificial intelligence.
“In this age of misinformation—of ‘fake news,’ conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes — ‘gaslighting’ has emerged as a word for our time,” wrote the dictionary.
So, why does it deserve Word of the Year and what are some examples of “gaslighting”?
“In recent years, with the vast increase in channels and technologies used to mislead, ‘gaslighting’ has become the favoured word for the perception of deception,” explained Merriam-Webster. “This is why (trust us!) it has earned its place as our Word of the Year.”
The dictionary says “gaslighting” is now being used for personal and political contexts.
For example, Merriam-Webster cites a Psychology Today article from March 2022 that uses the term to describe a not-so-sincere apology.
“The ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ approach, along with avoiding an argument in lieu of admitting fault, is good old fashioned gaslighting.”
In a Daily Hive article from earlier this year, the term is used to describe the practice of “medical gaslighting,” which is when doctors frequently dismiss and downplay the severity of women’s medical needs.
In politics, the dictionary also cites a US representative accusing Big Oil of “gaslighting” the public, claiming to be a part of the solution to climate change.
Some argue that it should’ve been Word of the Year in 2016, an era where a certain orange-haired former host of The Apprentice attempted to gaslight the country by denying many statements he had made in public.
Either way, in what Merriam-Webster describes as the age of misinformation, “gaslighting” is a word that’s sure to be used by many for years to come.