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Merriam-Webster declared “gaslighting” the word of the year this week, if you can believe it. The term, which describes a type of lie that leaves the target doubting their perception of reality, saw a 1,740 percent increase in searches on the dictionary’s site in 2022, with steady interest over the course of the year.

“In recent years, with the vast increase in channels and technologies used to mislead, gaslighting has become the favored word for the perception of deception,” Merriam-Webster’s editors wrote in an explanation for their selection.  

Even if you remember what a “gaslight” is, it doesn’t illuminate the word’s meaning. The mind-manipulating connotation came from a 1938 play called Gas Light, later turned into a movie. The plot: A husband tries to trick his wife into thinking she’s losing her mind — and thereby getting sent to an asylum — so he can steal the priceless jewels she’s inherited. His strategy involves sneaking around the house and making the gaslights flicker and dim, while insisting that the lights look totally normal to him.

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