HomeNewsMerriam-Webster’s 2022 Word of the Year Revealed

Merriam-Webster’s 2022 Word of the Year Revealed

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Getty Images)

Merriam-Webster has revealed its 2022 word of the year, and you won’t believe what it is.

The word in question: gaslighting. I promise I’m telling the truth. The dictionary defines gaslighting as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.” There’s usually malicious intent behind gaslighting, as opposed to straight-up lying or fibbing.

According to the publisher, the term gained significant interest in the past year, with searches rising by 1,740%. “The increase in dictionary lookups for gaslighting is striking,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large. “In our age of misinformation – “fake news,” conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes – gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time.”

Gaslighting isn’t completely a 21st-century term, though. It originated in a play from 1938 called “Gas Light” by Patrick Hamilton. The plot “involves a man attempting to make his wife believe that she is going insane,” said the publisher. In that context, gaslighting is a “psychological manipulation of a person” that causes that person “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.”

A lot of damage done with one little act: gaslighting. But, Merriam-Webster notes, gaslighting today has taken on additional meanings. It has now crept into personal and political contexts, and technology isn’t helping.

“From politics to pop culture to relationships, it has become a favored word for the perception of deception,” said Sokolowski. He then joked, “On the subject of gaslighting …  we do hope you’ll trust us.”

How is the Merriam-Webster Word of the Year Chosen?

Merriam-Webster editors choose the word of the year based on search data, said Sokolowski. He explained to the Associated Press that he and a team of editors gauge which words have had a boost in popularity and search data over the past year. They then weed out terms most commonly searched, and from there compile a list of the most searched terms over approximately 12 months.

“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,” Sokolowski told AP News. “It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year.”

Last year, the word of the year was “vaccine,” which rose 601% in search data from 2020. The rest of the most commonly searched terms from 2022, you ask? “Cancel culture,” “oligarch,” “Omicron,” “codify,” “LGBTQIA,” “sentient,” “loamy,” “raid,” and “Queen consort.” Gaslighting spent every day of 2022 in the top 50 words searched on Merriam-Webster’s website. Don’t believe me? That sounds like a personal problem.