Merriam-Webster Chooses Its Word of the Year

It's 'gaslighting'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 28, 2022 2:40 AM CST
Updated Dec 3, 2022 4:45 PM CST
Merriam-Webster Chooses Its Word of the Year
Gas lamps illuminate St. Louis' Gaslight Square on April 2, 1962.   (AP Photo/JMH, File)

“Gaslighting”—mind manipulating, grossly misleading, downright deceitful—is Merriam-Webster's word of the year, the AP reports. Lookups for the word on increased 1,740% in 2022 over the year before. But something else happened. There wasn't a single event that drove significant spikes in the curiosity, as it usually goes with the chosen word of the year (last year's was "vaccine"). The gaslighting was pervasive. “It’s a word that has risen so quickly in the English language, and especially in the last four years, that it actually came as a surprise to me and to many of us,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor at large, in an exclusive interview with the AP ahead of Monday's unveiling. “It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year,” he said.

There were deepfakes and the dark web. There were deep states and fake news. And there was a whole lot of trolling. Merriam-Webster's top definition for 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, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.” Gaslighting is a heinous tool frequently used by abusers in relationships—and by politicians and other newsmakers. It can happen between romantic partners, within a broader family unit and among friends. It can be a corporate tactic, or a way to mislead the public.

There's also “medical gaslighting,” when a health care professional dismisses a patient's symptoms or illness as “all in your head.” Despite its relatively recent prominence—including Gaslighter, the Chicks' 2020 album featuring the rousingly angry titular single—the word was brought to life more than 80 years ago with Gas Light, a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton that birthed two film adaptations in the 1940s. Merriam-Webster, which logs 100 million pageviews a month on its site, chooses its word of the year based solely on data. Sokolowski and his team weed out evergreen words most commonly looked up to gauge which word received a significant bump over the year before. “Gaslighting,” Sokolowski said, spent all of 2022 in the top 50 words looked up on to earn top dog word of the year status. Rounding out this year's Top 10 are:

  1. “Oligarch,” driven by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
  2. “Omicron,” the persistent COVID-19 variant and the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
  3. “Codify,” as in turning abortion rights into federal law.
  4. “Queen consort,” what King Charles’ wife, Camilla is newly known as.
  5. “Raid,” as in the search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.
  6. “Sentient,” with lookups brought on by Google canning the engineer who claimed an unreleased AI system had become sentient.
  7. “Cancel culture,” enough said.
  8. “LGBTQIA,” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual, aromantic or agender.
  9. “Loamy,” which many Wordle users tried back in August, though the right word that day was “clown.”
(More word of the year stories.)

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