Gaslighting is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year, Reflecting the Treacherous Times We Live In 

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PHOTO BY Shutterstock ILLUSTRATOR: War Espejo

( "Gaslighting" has been chosen as the Word of the Year by American dictionary Merriam-Webster as it noted how fake news, misinformation, and conspiracy theories have become more pervasive in the post-COVID world.

Defined as "the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage," "gaslighting" lookups increased by 1,740% in 2022 --- the highest interest for the year, Merriam-Webster said.

According to the dictionary, "gaslighting" was first used in the mid-20th century to refer to a form of psychological manipulation that causes a person to "question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories", leading to "confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem."

In recent years, however, the meaning of the word has become much simpler and broader, that is to mislead a person for one’s personal benefit, it added.

"Unlike lying, which tends to be between individuals, and fraud, which tends to involve organizations, gaslighting applies in both personal and political contexts," Merriam-Webster said.


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How does gaslighting work?

"It's when someone forces another person to question their own thoughts or events occurring around them. It’s like saying that something did not happen or making the person doubt their sense of reality," Joseph Marqueza clinical psychologist, said in an earlier interview with reportr.

"When someone says to you, 'ikaw lang ang nagsasabi niyan', it will likely cause you to doubt yourself na you’re the only one who sees it. It can make you question if what you experienced happened at all," he added. 

Gaslighting has crossed over to the mainstream from clinical psychology in recent years, as the world becomes more open in discussing mental health issues including emotional abuse, which underlies the phenomenon.

It became prominent even in politics, as journalistic works began using the term to describe emerging political strategies of strongmen like Donald Trump and their penchant for distorting truth.

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A paper published by the American Sociological Review argued that despite largely being a psychological concern that is highly focused on interpersonal relationships, gaslighting is "fundamentally a social phenomenon", citing social inequalities such as between genders that give people, typically men, the power to manipulate others, usually women. 

"This is not to say men never experience abuse or abusive tactics, but rather that gender inequality makes women more likely to be victimized than men," it said. 

Prior to "gaslighting", Merriam-Webster has also named "pandemic" and "vaccine" as the Words of the Year for 2020 and 2021, respectively. --- with reports from Ara Eugenio

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