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gaslight

[ gas-lahyt ]
/ ˈgæsˌlaɪt /
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noun

light produced by the combustion of illuminating gas.
a gas burner or gas jet for producing this kind of light.

adjective

verb (used with object), gas·light·ed or gas·lit, gas·light·ing.

to cause (a person) to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation: How do you know if your partner is gaslighting you?

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Origin of gaslight

1800–10; gas + light1;def. 4 in reference to the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which an abusive husband secretly and repeatedly dims and brightens the gaslights in the house while accusing his wife of imagining the flickering

OTHER WORDS FROM gaslight

gaslighted, gaslit, adjectivegaslighting, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does gaslighting mean?

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse or psychological manipulation involving distorting the truth in order to confuse or create doubt in another person to the point they question their sanity or reality.

Where did the term gaslighting come from?

The term gaslighting originates from a 1938 play called Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton. It was eventually adapted into a film, compounded into a single word as Gaslight, in 1944. The story features a conniving and murderous husband who tries to conceal his true identity from his wife. In the film, the husband makes his wife go crazy and steal valuable jewels her family has hidden away. Part of his efforts include toying with their gas-powered lights so they flicker. He convinces her that she’s imagining this, trying to drive her insane.

As a result of the film’s success, gaslighting became a common way of describing emotional abuse or manipulation that causes one to question their sanity. Evidence for this metaphorical extension emerges in the 1950–60s.

While there was some occasional political use in the 1990s, the term rose to particular prominence decades later during the 2016 U.S. election. Then-candidate Trump’s campaign and subsequent administration has been accused of “gaslighting America” for, among other things, labeling verifiable facts as “fake news.”

How to use the term gaslighting  

The gerund gaslighting is used to describe the act of such sanity-questioning manipulation. Its verb form is to gaslight (e.g., to gaslight the public), taking a past tense of gaslighted or gaslit.

The term is used to describe toxic or unhealthy relationship dynamics involving power and control. It’s often used by victims who retroactively discover that a close friend or loved one has been extremely deceitful. As such, gaslighting is commonly associated with infidelity and has been named as a form of child abuse.

Gaslighting is increasingly used more casually to describe lying or deceitful behavior. For instance, some media critics have described the misleading narratives of popular podcasts S-Town and The Polybius Conspiracy as gaslighting the audience.

More examples of gaslighting:

“Gaslighting identifies a real phenomenon: the way critics of a line of thought sometimes try to discount the perceptions of the person producing that thought.”
—Katy Waldman, Slate, April 2016

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for gaslight

British Dictionary definitions for gaslight

gaslight
/ (ˈɡæsˌlaɪt) /

noun

a type of lamp in which the illumination is produced by an incandescent mantle heated by a jet of gas
the light produced by such a lamp
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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