“Gaslighting” Beats Out “Oligarch” and “Cancel Culture” to Become the Official Word of 2022

The term has spent the entire year in the top 50 words searched on Merriam-Webster

An antique gas lantern sits on a tabletop in the fading twilight. "Gaslighting" is Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2022.
"Gaslighting" has been added to the hallowed list of Merriam-Webster's word of the year.

Vaccine, pandemic, they, justice, feminism, surreal. These are just a few of the terms that have previously been crowned Merriam-Webster’s word of the year, an accolade that spans the better part of the last two decades. It’s a seemingly random assortment taken together, but on their own, each word offers unambiguous insight to the most significant events of that year. Which is what makes this year’s word that much more interesting.

That’s because “gaslighting” is Merriam-Webster’s word of 2022, as announced on November 28, beating out “oligarch” and “cancel culture.”

For the uninitiated, gaslighting is defined, according to the dictionary company’s top definition, as 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.”

Searches for the term on Merriam-Webster.com increased 1740% in 2022. More interesting still is that, per the Associated Press, there wasn’t one single event that drove “significant spikes in the curiosity,” which has historically been the way with the word of the year.

“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,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, said. “It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year.”

That said, gaslighting is hardly a new word. In fact, the first documented use of the term was more than 80 years ago in a play by Patrick Hamilton in 1938 aptly called Gas Light. Now, however, it’s used more in regards to abusive relationships, and how they pertain to mental health.

Gaslighting has spent the entire year so far in the top 50 words searched on Merriam-Webster.com.

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