Gaslighting: Reigning Word of the Year

At the end of 2022, Merriam-Webster announced their words of the year – those words which saw dramatic spikes in views of their online dictionary. As they prepare to announce the statistics for this year, we look back at the most searched word in their last announcement, ‘gaslighting.’ Gaslighting is defined as:

the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage

The term saw an increase in views of 1700% during 2022, as it was used to characterise – and decry – such behaviour in society. Although it was only recently that interest in the term increased, it was first used in this context almost 80 years ago. It takes its name from the behaviour of the antagonist of Patrick Hamilton’s play, Gas Light, which made its debut in London in 1938.

It was when the story was first adapted to film, in 1940 as Gaslight, that the world at large came to know Anton Walbrook’s Paul, the newlywed husband whose persistent questioning and belittling leads his new wife Bella (Diana Wynyard) to question her sanity. The story was retold four years later, in a Hollywood production starting Ingrid Bergman, who faces torment at the hands of her new husband, played by Charles Boyer.

Hamilton’s play would go onto be adapted for radio and television productions, including a 1958 Australian version, produced by the ABC and starring Beverley Dunn and Brian James. The play continues to be produced around the world, with a new production due to open in Brisbane in February 2024, before touring nationally.

The original film production of Gaslight, along with two radio plays, is available from One More Reprise now.

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