Merriam-Webster Announces the 2022 Word of the Year

Anne Spollen

Every year since 2003, Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in the United States and the unofficial highest source of American word use, has selected ten words to sum up each year. Of course there is one word that tops that list each year.

Thinking back to 2020, if you could sum up that annus horribilis in a single word, what might that be? Here's a clue: while these words were in the top ten for 2020, they are not the winner: defund, mamba, quarantine, kraken, schadenfreude and antebellum. So that leaves the one word that best illustrates 2020, and that word is pandemic. Understandable since we spent a great deal of that year under quarantine due to the worldwide pandemic.

In 2021, with medical advances and life returning to something passing for normal, the words selected to highlight that year were insurrection, perseverance, woke, nomad, cicada and infrastructure among others. But the top winner? That would be vaccine.

How does Merriam-Webster determine which words are contenders? They look at page hits and common searches on their own website. In 2006, they have used both ideas suggested by visitors to their website and an online poll. Their lists reflect key events that shaped the year.

For this year, the words in the running included Queen Consort, Oligarch, raid, loamy, sentient, codify, LGBTQIA, cancel culture, omicron, and oligarch. But the top winner? Gaslighting. This is a term taken from a 1938 play penned by Patrick Hamilton. Used as a verb, a husband attempts to make his wife question reality by, among other tricks of deception, dimming the gas lights in their home. He tells her she is imagining the fading light. This play had two 1940s film reiterations, the most famous one known as the Ingrid Bergman classic, Gaslight. Since then, the term "gaslighting" has come to denote the act of manipulating someone psychologically. It is particularly apt to describe deliberately misleading someone so they do not trust their own perceptions.
Scene from 1944 movie with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman from which the term "gaslighting" evolved.Photo by(Image Via Wikimedia Commons)
Why this word? 2022 showed an enormous escalation in lookups for this word; in fact, it was a 1740% increase. According to Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large,“It’s a word that has risen so quickly in the English language, and especially in the last four years, that it actually came as a surprise to me and to many of us."
In today's context, gaslighting is associated with the manipulation and intentional deception in both personal and political spheres. Misinformation once illustrated by the dimming of lights, is now more pronounced under the bright lens of burgeoning technology.

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New York City writer interested in urban concerns, lifestyle topics, human interest, all areas of wellness, and social issues.

Staten Island, NY

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