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Time to Turn Off the Gas in Political ‘Gaslighting’

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

It’s not hard to understand why Merriam-Webster, the dictionary giant, chose “gaslighting” as their “word of the year” for 2022. I was only surprised that it took so long.

Rolling Stone writer Miles Klee apparently agrees. “We already had the Year of Gaslighting,” writes Klee, who prefers 2016 as the low point for gaslighting — when “Donald Trump ran for president frequently denying he’d said things he’s been recorded saying the day before.”

I can see why he chose that year. I first ran across the term “gaslighting” in 2016 in, of all places, Teen Vogue in a biting and widely discussed essay by writer Lauren Duca.

Its headline: “Donald Trump is gaslighting America.”

Already Trump’s rise was bringing a new era for fact-checkers to chase “fake news,” “deepfakes,” “conspiracy theories,” “troll farms” and other abundant channels of a new multimedia misinformation industry.

The term “gaslighting” was revised from the 1944 Hollywood movie “Gaslight,” for which Ingrid Bergman won the Academy Award, playing a young opera singer who doubts her sanity because of her husband’s trickery aimed at stealing her money.

 

But, as another self-described word nerd, I must rise to defend Merriam-Webster against Klee’s critique.

The nation’s oldest dictionary company’s data-driven survey does not try to report the most used or most popular word. It reports the words that most often have been looked up most often in their online dictionary during the year.

In other words, its tally offers a measure of public interest in a word, without telling us why the searchers are interested.

With that in mind, there’s no question that a lot of us are interested in “gaslighting,” whether to do it or protect ourselves against it.

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(c) 2022 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

 

 

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