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What is Gaslighting, Merriam-Webster’s 2022 Word of the Year


Gaslightingis the Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year 2022.

During the year, the number of searches for gaslighting increased by 1740%, according to the press release from Merriam-Webster.

The Office québécois de la langue française proposes to translate Gaslightingby “cognitive diversion”. Others have proposed using “décervelage” which the Larousse defines as being the “act of depriving someone of any ability to reason correctly» and the Petit Robert as being the «loss of judgment (of a person)“.

Gaslighting, according to the Merriam-Webster’s definition, is “the act or practice of grossly deceiving someone, especially for one’s own benefit“.

Early uses of the term

The term comes, says the Merriam-Webster press release, from the title “Gas Lightfrom a 1938 play and the film based on it, the plot of which involves a man who tries to trick his wife into thinking she’s going crazy. Her mysterious activities in the attic dim the gas lights in the house, but he claims the lights don’t dim and she can’t trust her own perceptions.

The earliest uses of the term originally referred to this type of deception, which Merriam-Webster defines as:

Psychological manipulation, usually over an extended period, which causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories, and which usually results in confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem of self, uncertainty about one’s emotional or mental stability, and dependence on the abuser“.

Extension of use

In recent years, the meaning of gaslighting has expanded to refer to deception more broadly:the act or practice of grossly deceiving someone, especially for personal gain“. Gaslighting has become the preferred word for a perception of deception, reports Merriam-Webster. It applies in both personal and political contexts.

psychological abuse

The term is widely used, in psychology and in women’s studies, to designate components of psychological abuse in intimate relationships.

The example of “medical gaslighting”

Another example is the use of the term “medical gaslighting” which has become very common in online support communities by patients who have felt that their symptoms have been downplayed or misrepresented as primarily psychological.

For example, a study, published in October 2022 in the journalSSM – Qualitative Research in Healthinterviewed people with long COVID gathered in online communities to share their experiences of the disease.

More than half used the term to describe how they faced rejection and doubt when medical evaluations, tests and examinations failed to identify recognizable abnormalities. The online interactions allowed them, they said, to realize that they weren’t crazy and that they had just as complex health problems and symptoms as everyone else.

For more information, see the links below.

Psychomedia with sources: Merriam-Webster, SSM – Qualitative Research in Health.
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