‘Gaslight,’ ‘denier’ top words for 2022; no, really!

PHOTO: Lynn Friedman, Flickr CC-BY-SA-NC

If an abuser can’t control their partner, they might instead try to control their reality. To control reality is the ultimate power, one easily exploited in the wrong hands. 

So it can’t possibly be a good sign that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists “gaslight” as its 2022 word of the year. Nor can we be any more reassured that the Global Language Monitor lists “denier” as its top word.

The origin of the word “gaslight” in its modern context began with a 1944 film of the same name. In that film, a husband convinces a woman that the things she sees with her own eyes aren’t really happening. He persuades her that she is the one actually responsible for his nefarious deeds.

Over the years, psychologists began using the term “gaslight” to describe behavior centered on changing the terms or even the very reality of relationships. Today the word has entered common usage in politics and online discourse. 

Picture, if you will, a hypothetical politician who says or posts something unkind that upsets a large number of people. Then imagine that the same politician says they never said that, even though there is clear evidence to the contrary. Then, if you can, imagine that the politician in question says that anything they may or may not have said was, in fact, caused by their opponents.

I’m sure you can’t imagine this. It’s just too far fetched. Anyway, that’s gaslighting. 

The word “denier” comes from a similar place.

In defining “denier,” the Global Language Monitor says the “concept encompasses ‘Hater,’ ‘Cancel Culture,’ and the ‘Deniers’ of an ever-expanding list of facts, fallacies, and beliefs.”

If a person, philosophy or even a general vibe is not to your liking, we now feel a strong urge to simply deny the value or even the very existence of that person or idea.

And it can get a lot more specific.

Our nation, and for that matter our local communities, boast a big roster of climate change deniers, COVID-19 deniers, and deniers that the events of Jan. 6, 2021 constituted an insurrection. In smaller quantities we have moon landing deniers and Holocaust deniers. But at any given small town bar you will likely find at least one person who denies all of these things at once, along with the story their ex-wife told the judge.

What gives? I mean, climate change has been broadly accepted by an overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientists. COVID-19 policy divides people politically, but I’ve had it and can attest that the disease is certainly real. Courts are convicting participants in the Jan. 6 riots for insurrection left and right. Why deny it?

Perhaps that’s because in a world far more interconnected by technology and multiculturalism, the notions of “reality” that once seemed so firm are no longer shared by neighbors, even when they grew up and still live in the same town. If your version of reality doesn’t seem to be winning, media and political figures alike have figured out there is a booming market for an alternate reality.

This isn’t just happening around here; it’s happening the world over. That’s why the words “gaslight” and “denier” stand out this year to lexicographers and linguists. These words reflect a world where humanity possesses the means and technology to solve almost any problem, but then spends most of its time arguing about why we shouldn’t. 

This is the part where I say that I hope that the 2023 word of the year is “truth.” But, then again, there’s no way we’d all agree about what that actually is.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 31, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.



  1. I am pretty traditional about What is Truth. However, I’ve also had some rethinking in the last year. No I don’t buy into the conspiracy theories, but I also realize that what I think of as TRUE is quite often what was taught to me, not just what I have personally come to experience or research (reading on the ‘net doesn’t count as research !!!) Yet obviously there is no way I can personally experience the whole world, so should I remain doubtful about the existence of most things? Do I take what people I trust have to say about something as a more solid truth than what I might see on TV? .[..Which is how the conspiracy people get their footing. ]
    Quite a conundrum. I can stand in mid Montana and see the mountains in the distance, and then give a truthful description of the mountains. You are 200 miles west of me and describe those mountains, and your truthful description with differ completely from mine.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.