The word of the year

The English language is continually evolving. Words that meant one thing in the past have developed a new meaning now. Check this out: according to the new Cambridge Dictionary, the latest definition of a woman is: “an adult who lives and identifies as a female even though they may have been born as a different sex.” Likewise a man is now “an adult who lives and identifies as a male even though they might have been born a different sex.” It is interesting to note that the definition refers to a different sex, not the opposite sex suggesting that there are more than two sexes.

New meanings have developed for old words, like the adjective woke. I use to think of woke as a verb: I woke up tired this morning. A woke corporation is an entity that signals its support for progressive policies as a means of maintaining influence and signaling a form of virtue. Woke corporations typically support the leftist side of an issue. The word “woke capitalism” has often been attributed to an article by Ross Douthat in the New York Times in 2015, and the usage of this term has grown exponentially ever since.

But the winner-take-all for this year is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary word of the year: “gaslighting.” Gaslighting has its origin in the 1938 English play, “Gaslight” by Patrick Hamilton, where a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by distorting reality and slowly dimming the gaslights so he can declare her insane, commit her to an institution and collect her inheritance. The wife notices the dimming of the gaslights, but the husband leads her to believe that they are not fading so as to have her question her own sanity. According to Robin Stern, author of “The Gaslight Effect,” gaslighting is, “the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings.” According to the American Psychological Association in the past, gaslighting is “manipulation so extreme as to induce mental illness or to justify commitment of the gaslighted person to a psychiatric institution.” In recent years, the term, gaslighting, has expanded usage to mean essentially lying with a straight face. Those who participate in gaslighting are often pathological liars and display narcissistic tendencies. They are interested in gaining control over a group or over a particular discussion. Some examples of gaslighting phrases are: “That did not happen,” “I never said that,” “That’s a lie,” “You’re nuts,” “The border is secure,” etc.  You can often recognize a gaslighter by their need to impose their judgements on you; they feel they are always correct in their assertions; they are constantly complaining; they never accept responsibility; they are constantly calling you names; they say one thing and do another and are intimidating. 

These words with new meanings are often put forth by the elite and powerful in our society to reinforce their elitism and perhaps control the conversation. When one of these elitists hits a person with a fancy word that they know nothing about, the listener usually doesn’t respond since it is prudent not to talk about something you know nothing about. If clarification is asked of the elitist, a person often runs the risk of being declared an idiot. It may be prudent to just disengage from the conversation and obtain the clarification by other means.

Someday, these words will probably fade into oblivion much like the expression, “it’s a Doozy” (referring to the fancy and unusual Duesenberg automobile) and “jeepers creepers” (an expression of surprise which came from the 1938 song by Louis Armstrong). New words or words with new meanings will most likely continue to appear.


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