When British playwright Patrick Hamilton wrote Gas Light in 1938, little did he know how often the word would be used in the 21st Century.
Merriam-Webster, America’s oldest dictionary publisher, has just chosen “gaslighting” as its word of the year.
Searches on its website for the word have spiked by 1,740% in 2022, according to the company.
Gaslighting is the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own advantage.
“In this age of misinformation – of ‘fake news’, conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deep fakes – gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time,” Merriam-Webster said in a statement on Monday.
Curiously, search interest in the word was not driven by any single event, the company’s editor-at-large told the Associated Press.
“It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year,” Peter Sokolowski told the US wire service.
Gaslighting derives its origins from Hamilton’s Victorian-era play set in London about a middle-class marriage based on lies and deceit.
Lead character Jack Manningham seeks to convince his wife Bella that she is going insane, including by saying she is imagining the dimming of the gas light in their home.
The play was twice adapted for the screen: in the UK in 1940, then in the US in 1944. The American version, which stars Ingrid Bergman, won two Academy Awards and is preserved in the US National Film Registry as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” work.
But as Merriam-Webster notes, while the term referred primarily to psychological manipulation in the 20th Century, its modern use is driven by “the vast increase in channels and technologies used to mislead” people, especially in personal and political contexts.
Also on Tuesday, the company noted several other words that were among its most looked-up this year.
- raid; and,
- queen consort