Two new words of the year
“Gaslighting” is Merriam-Websgter’s Word of the Year for 2022. (Getty Images)
Gaslighting: “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.” In other words, lying with a purpose. Sound familiar? Yes, the Word of the Year is mostly a numbers game, but given our current civic, social and political relationship with the truth, Merriam-Webster’s choice was timely and inspired.
Not that we’ve all channeled Shakespeare’s Prospero or Jay Gatsby, but we’re flush with fake news, deep fakes, conspiracy theories, the Big Lie and misinformation campaigns designed to, well, gaslight us.
Merriam-Webster’s other finalists for word of the year included oligarchs, omicron and codify. Two events during the year, however, encapsulated a pair of simple words that I would argue also captured 2022: anger and hopefulness.
The dichotomous duo may lack the lookups to be Word of Year fodder, but they remind me that among the tumult, turmoil and truthlessness of the last year, we soldier on with optimism.
During the Academy Awards in March, movie star Will Smith left his seat in the audience and assaulted comedian Chris Rock with a powerful slap to the face. Smith was upset about something Rock had said about his wife. Nearly 17 million people viewed the wallop. Smith has since apologized, and he and Rock have vowed to move on from what was considered a shocking incident, but the slap seen round the world was more revelatory than unique.
We were angry in 2022. We drove among more road ragers behind the wheel resulting in everything from near misses to murder. Sometimes they were us. According to AAA, 80% of drivers admit to being enraged while on the road. While that doesn’t mean those drivers caused an accident or hurt someone, four out of five is a considerable number.
While trolls and other assorted ne’er-do-wells show up online regularly, pitching fits and acting on their aggrieved states, real or imagined, we took our snit show on the road, too. School board meetings were favorite venues for these public tantrums, meltdowns violent enough that some board members received death threats and meetings had a police presence.
Aside from being able to disagree with one another without explosive rage, 2022 continued to see frenzied and frightening overreactions from something as simple as a botched fast food order to the thousands of times someone didn’t get their way. Domestic and intimate partner violence spiked during the stay-at-home orders of the pandemic but continues to plague every demographic in society. Nurses and teachers among others have been targets of vicious and threatening behavior for doing their jobs.
Why are we so angry? Some insist that the last few years and COVID changed the world, that we are adjusting to a new way of life and our place in it. That may be too vague of an assessment, but, even for a nation whose history is replete with violent reactions to a king, fascism and plain bullying, our recent behavior reveals an angry people.
All of which infuses my second nominee for word of year — hopefulness — with such power.
I realized as much on Dec. 21 when a strange reaction resonated around a joint session of Congress as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke of important things such as self-determination and liberty: almost universal agreement, evidenced by a series of standing ovations for Zelenskyy’s presence and words. As one of millions watching the historic moment at home, I was struck with a sense that his message was one of hope not just in his asking for more aid in his country’s war against Russia, but in the idea that he spoke for liberty-loving people everywhere, that millions still reject authoritarians abroad and here, that the future in a changed world need not be dim.
Sure, some small minds in Congress sat out the speech in protest, not a good look politically or historically. A couple dissenters were there, childishly playing with their phones, unable to read the room or grasp the moment, full of themselves and a self-serving petulance. (Another Word of the Year nominee?)
In the end, however, as flags were exchanged and Zelenskyy’s words of freedom hung fresh in the air, hopefulness stretched across two aisles and maybe to a new place in the lexicon of public discourse.
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