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'Gaslighting' is Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2022

Disinformation campaigns, "fake news" and distrust made "gaslighting" Merriam-Webster's 2022 Word of the Year. File Photo by mizar_21984/Shutterstock
Disinformation campaigns, "fake news" and distrust made "gaslighting" Merriam-Webster's 2022 Word of the Year. File Photo by mizar_21984/Shutterstock

Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Public distrust and the growing strength of disinformation campaigns makes "gaslighting" Merriam-Webster's 2022 Word of the Year.

The term, which is defined as "the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one's own advantage," follows 2021's word "vaccine." The company announced its word of the year on Monday.

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"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 on its website.

"Gaslighting" has become more common in recent years but search activity greatly increased this year -- by 1,740%. It remained a frequently searched term throughout the year.

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The word "gaslighting" comes from a 1938 play and film Gas Light. The plot of the story features a man who deliberately tricks his wife into believing she is going insane, making her question her perception of reality. The psychological manipulation creates a power balance in which he is in control and she is dependent on him. Merriam-Webster said this type of manipulation often takes place over a long period of time.

In more modern uses, "gaslighting" has described the medical community, media, political sphere and energy companies.

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According to Psychology Today, "Almost anyone can be susceptible to gaslighting tactics, which have been deployed throughout history, and continue to be used today, by domestic abusers, dictators, narcissists and cult leaders."

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Gaslighting in personal relationships can be particularly harmful and difficult to overcome, Psychology Today says. The victim will find it difficult to leave their abuser due to a "hoovering" effect, in which the abuser will suck them back in with kindness and empty promises before resorting to their old ways.

Other words that saw an increase in searches in 2022 include "oligarch," "omicron" and "codify."

The vast accessibility of information and communication channels waters the seeds of gaslighting. Merriam-Webster attributes this to the rising presence of gaslighting in the modern world.

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"This is why (trust us!) it has earned its place as our Word of the Year," Merriam-Webster said.

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