Merriam-Webster have revealed that their word of the year is ‘gaslighting’ – but a large proportion of the UK population do not know what it means.
The US dictionary publisher chose gaslighting as its word of 2022 after searches for the word on its website shot up by a huge 1,740% this year.
The dictionary defines the term as "psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one's emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator".
Despite the rise in people looking up its meaning this year, many still would not be able to define it exactly when asked, according to a survey by YouGov.
When asked ‘do you know what the word gaslighting means?’, just under a third (32%) of the 5,256 Brits questioned said they knew exactly what it means, with nearly the same amount (31%) saying they had a vague idea of its definition.
The same figure (31%) said they did not know what gaslighting means, with 10% of those never hearing of the word at all.
The youngest age group (18-24) were more likely to be able to define gaslighting, with 44% saying they could do exactly.
Just 16% of people over 65 knew what it meant, while nearly half (47%) of the same age group were unable to define it – compared to 15% of 18-24 year olds who couldn’t.
Women were more likely to be able to define gaslighting than men, with the genders roughly equal in terms of having heard of the word at all.
Watch: Author Rebecca Humphries gives her definition of gaslighting
What does gaslighting mean?
The origins of the term come from a 1938 play called Gaslight, which was made into a more widely known film in 1944.
In the movie, a husband manipulates his wife by turning the gas lights down in their home and then denying it has been happening, causing her to question her sense of reality and eventually check into a mental institution.
Since then, the term has been used to describe a form of manipulation which takes place in abusive relationships.
According to the charity Women's Aid, gaslighting is "a form of psychological abuse which makes someone question their perception of reality".
Charity Cheshire Without Abuse says that a person might gaslight you by "undermining your confidence or intelligence, questioning your version of events, persistent lying and accusing you of going crazy, losing the plot or being mentally unstable".
This enablers abusers to control their victims.
In 2015, the UK government made the use of coercive or controlling behaviour a criminal offence which carries a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.
Gaslighting is not exclusive to romantic relationships as experts say that it can also take place between family members, friends, colleagues.
The term is also frequently used in politics, with political theorists arguing that some politicians use 'collective gaslighting' against the public, in order to consolidate their power.