Grammar Moses: 'Gaslighting' sparks dictionary lookups

  • Gas lamps illuminate St. Louis' Gaslight Square in 1962. "Gaslighting" is Merriam-Webster's word of 2022.

    Gas lamps illuminate St. Louis' Gaslight Square in 1962. "Gaslighting" is Merriam-Webster's word of 2022. Associated press

 
 
Updated 12/3/2022 5:51 PM

Before flipping the calendar to December, the lexicographers at Merriam-Webster rolled the dice and released their list of most popular lookups for 2022.

I guess if "Mystery comet" or "Y2K23" don't make a run for it by New Year's Eve, it'll be smooth sailing until next year.

 

The word of the year is ... "gaslighting."

I've always loved this word, in part because it originated from the title of a play and the films that followed.

What the Farrelly brothers' "Kingpin" couldn't do for "munsoned," "Gaslight" did for "gaslighting" -- create a lasting, ubiquitous descriptor out of popular entertainment. (You get extra credit if you got the "munsoned" reference.)

"Gaslight" was a 1940 English film based on a play of the same name (the American version with Joseph Cotton was released four years later) in which a wife notices the gas lights in her home keep dimming, owing to her husband's secretly rooting around in the attic.

His nocturnal activities cause the rest of the lights to dim, but he tells her she is imagining it.

The new "Gaslit" miniseries starring Julia Roberts and Sean Penn likely also stirred interest.

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"Gaslighting" has grown over the years to describe various ways people try to mislead others to the gaslighters' advantage.

Think of the ways we try to manipulate each other on the internet, how other nations are trying to hoodwink us to alter and weaken our electoral process.

It's a long con form of psychological manipulation that makes the target question his or her own thoughts, perception of reality and mental stability.

Gosh, what's not an example of gaslighting today?

Merriam-Webster says there has been a 17-fold increase in people looking up the word in its online dictionaries this year.

I am heartened by one thing -- that a goodly number of people showed enough concern about it to learn more.

As the old saying goes, if you don't know who the sucker is, it's you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Merriam-Webster's runners-up are: oligarch, omicron, codify, LGBTQIA, sentient, loamy (it was a solution in both Wordle and Quordle), raid and queen consort.

"Raid?" Really? Again, I can take comfort in those who don't know what a raid is to take the time to research it.

That's progress.

Leftovers

In fairness to others who contributed ideas for the book idea I've shelved on eggcorns, mondegreens and malapropisms, here are a few more funny ones:

• We were driving through the forests of Montana on a family vacation. A Crystal Gayle song was on the radio. From the back seat, our young son was belting out "Doughnuts make my brownies blue" instead of "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue."

­-- Barbara Hocking

• Neil Diamond wrote and recorded a song in 1978 called "Forever in Blue Jeans." Until recently, every time I heard that tune I heard it as "Reverend Blue Jeans." I always took it to be an upbeat tune about a man who dressed casually and ministered to his flock while wearing blue jeans. My son and daughter heard it as "Rev. Blue Jeans," too.

-- Don Frost

• Although every song by R.E.M. could qualify, one of the toughest ones to decipher is "Sitting Still." Actual lyrics: "We could bind it in a scythe. We could gather, throw a fit. Up to buy, Katie buys a kitchen-size, but not Mae Ann. Setting trap for love, making a waste of time, sitting still."

Misheard as: "We could vomit in the sink. We could gather, throw a fit. Up to par and Katie bar the kitchen door but not me in. Sitting on top of the big hill, wasting time sitting still."

-- Ronn Gregorek

• I still like my mother's rendition of Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville," in which she said "stepped on a Pop-Tart" instead of "stepped on a pop top."

-- Cynthia Cwynar

From an Easter hymn at Mass: "Lo in the gravy lay" vs.

"Lo, in the grave He lay."

-- Jim Lowers

Thanks again, generous readers.

Listen carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at

grammarmosesthebook.com. It makes the perfect stocking stuffer. If you would like an autographed copy, write Jim at jbaumann@dailyherald.com.

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