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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Word of honor

by Brenda Looper | November 30, 2022 at 4:18 a.m.
Brenda Looper

I really don't like getting political; I'm cranky enough on my own, but add politics as now practiced? Yeesh.

But then Merriam-Webster has to go and make "gaslighting" its Word of the Year for 2022. You just know the trolls are gonna be griping about this column.

Not that they need a reason. They seem to be deeply unhappy people.

In its announcement, Merriam-Webster notes: "In this age of misinformation--of 'fake news,' conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes--gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time. A driver of disorientation and mistrust, gaslighting is 'the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one's own advantage.' 2022 saw a 1,740 percent increase in lookups for gaslighting, with high interest throughout the year.

"Its origins are colorful: The term comes from the title of a 1938 play and the movie based on that play, the plot of which involves a man attempting to make his wife believe that she is going insane. His mysterious activities in the attic cause the house's gas lights to dim, but he insists to his wife that the lights are not dimming and that she can't trust her own perceptions."

Over the years, the dictionary reports, the meaning broadened and simplified from the intense psychological manipulation in the play and movie to what it now signifies. "The idea of a deliberate conspiracy to mislead has made 'gaslighting' useful in describing lies that are part of a larger plan. Unlike 'lying,' which tends to be between individuals, and 'fraud,' which tends to involve organizations, gaslighting applies in both personal and political contexts."

Patients may feel that doctors are deliberately dismissing their symptoms as minor, or as psychological. A corporation may present a face to the public that claims to be doing all the right things environmentally while internal records prove something else entirely. Others may want you to believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that an election was stolen (ahem, Donald Trump and Kari Lake, you both lost).

All of those could be considered gaslighting, and as we've seen, can have dangerous consequences in some instances, especially with the reach of social media and "news" outlets with little regard for truth.

Gaslighting wasn't the only word in Merriam-Webster's list of finalists with political implications. Lookups of "oligarch" ("one of a class of individuals who through private acquisition of state assets amassed great wealth that is stored especially in foreign accounts and properties and who typically maintain close links to the highest government circles") have spiked with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And let us not forget that some consider U.S. billionaires to be oligarchs and, considering the political activities of some (Elon Musk, George Soros, etc.), they have a point.

Other politically infected words on the list include "omicron" (thanks to the stubbornness of those who refuse to follow covid guidelines for partisan reasons and the ability of covid-19 to shift from variant to variant), "codify" (referring primarily to making Roe v. Wade federal law after it was overturned by the Supreme Court), "LGBTQIA" (because we can't just let our gay friends live their lives in peace), and "raid" (ahem, relating to the execution of a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago that has been described as a break-in, with no Trump attorneys allowed to be present, classified documents having been declassified [with no evidence presented of declassification], etc.; those statements were false).

I'm really praying hard that next year's Word of the Year and finalists will be at most only tangentially related to politics. I think we could all use a break from the political about now.

Read more about the Word of the Year and the finalist list at merriam-webster.com.

Another dictionary is close to naming its word of the year, but needs your help. The team of lexicographers at Oxford Languages has narrowed its list of contenders to three finalists: "metaverse," "#IStandWith," and "goblin mode."

You can read the dictionary's reasoning for those picks and vote for your favorite until 12:01 a.m. Friday at languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/2022.

Not gonna tell ya how to vote, but one of them would probably be a lot more fun for me to write about.

Meanwhile, unless you're reading this before 7 a.m. Central today, Lake Superior State University has closed its submissions for words and phrases to be banished for 2023, and plans to release its list on Dec. 31 (which means my first column of 2023 will be about the list unless it's delayed). If you manage to get to it before the deadline, you can submit a word or phrase you'd love to send packing at lssu.edu. (Whether you submit to the university or not, send me those words and phrases you'd like to be rid of and tell me why at the email address below. I'm nosy and you know I'll be writing about it.)

I submitted a couple, but I can't tell you what they were since they were months ago and I've forgotten since then.

I'd like to speak to the manager about this aging thing, please.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.


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