'Gaslighting' is word of the year for Merriam-Webster

Josiah Antonio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 28 2022 07:20 PM

ABS-CBN News.
ABS-CBN News.

The word "gaslighting" on Monday was hailed as the word of the year by the American dictionary Merriam-Webster.

Traditionally used for dating references as the "act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own advantage," Merriam-Webster said the word was vastly used in issues of "misinformation — of 'fake news', conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes."

Based on the figures shown by Merriam-Webster, "gaslighting" saw a 1,740 percent increase in lookups with high interest throughout the year.

The origins of "gaslighting" traced back to 1938 from the title of a play and its movie adaptation with a plot involving 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," Merriam-Webster said.

"When gaslighting was first used in the mid-20th century it referred to a kind of deception like that in the movie," it added. 

Through the definition of its origins, gaslighting is 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, the uncertainty of one's emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator."

Recently the word is defined simply as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.” 

"In this use, the word is at home with other terms relating to modern forms of deception and manipulation, such as fake news, deepfake, and artificial intelligence," Merriam-Webster said.

Merriam-Webster said the word has captured how people have manipulated others into a certain reality may it be in relationships and politics.

"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, and fraud, which tends to involve organizations, gaslighting applies in both personal and political contexts," Merriam-Webster said. 

"English has plenty of ways to say 'lie,' from neutral terms like falsehood and untruth to straightforward deceitfulness and the formally euphemistic prevarication and dissemble, to the innocuous-sounding fib. And the Cold War brought us espionage-tinged disinformation," it added.

"In recent years, with the vast increase in channels and technologies used to mislead, gaslighting has become the favored word for the perception of deception. This is why (trust us!) it has earned its place as our Word of the Year."

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