In an age when 75% of Americans are fooled by fake news headlines, it’s no wonder that 2022’s Word of the Year is “gaslighting.”
Today, it’s become increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. But it’s not just oddball conspiracy theories that have muddied the waters. “Gaslighting” pinpoints a different type of misinformation that’s become commonplace in both personal and political matters: the gross manipulation of reality for personal gain.
As linguists, we’re always attentive to the words of our time, how they change meanings, and how languages around the world interpret and capture new concepts in different ways. With the help of our experts at Multilingual Connections, we’ve put together how “gaslighting” and other truth-bending terms are described around the world.
The History of “Gaslighting”
Amazingly enough, there was a 1740% boost in searches for “gaslighting” in 2022. But what exactly does “gaslighting” mean?
“Gaslighting” encompasses any acts aimed at misleading or manipulating another person for one’s own benefit. It’s a deception tactic that typically relies on psychologically undermining the victim’s perception of reality.
Its origins come from a 1938 play called “Gaslight,” in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing that she is simply imagining that the gas light illumination dims when he leaves the house. In turn, the wife begins to question her own sanity.
Today “gaslighting” is used more generally as a term for manipulating truth for personal advantage and can occur in diverse spheres of life. For instance, we’ve seen recently how conspiracy theories can distort reality not only for one individual, but millions. Take for example that 20% of Americans believe that there may be microchips inside the COVID-19 vaccines.
“Gaslighting” in Other Languages
What do other languages around the world have to say about misleading or manipulating the truth? While terms similar to “gaslighting” may not express the same connotation of grossly misleading others, there are some compelling phrases in other languages about deception, hoaxes and toxic relationships.
Directly Entered or Transliterated
Some languages have borrowed the term “gaslighting” directly from English. In South Korea and Mexico, for example, it has been incorporated into everyday conversations in its original English form.
Japanese has also transliterated “gaslighting” as “gasu raitingu,” though its use may not be as common as other Japanese-origin expressions about manipulation such as “嘘八百” meaning “eight hundred lies” or “everything is lie.”
Other languages have borrowed the image of gas or lights to describe this type of truth-bending. In Chinese, for example, “gaslighting” may be rendered as “煤氣燈效應,” meaning the “effect of gaslight” – though it’s not frequently utilized by everyday speakers.
Culturally-Located Phrases on Deception
However, most languages utilize their own culturally-located imagery to describe deception.
Often, these phrases are related to being tricked or lied to, especially in business transactions and politics. For this reason, they may not take on the same connotation of psychological manipulation.
Some interesting phrases related to lying and hoaxes include:
- Japanese’s “真っ赤なウソ” meaning “bright red lie” or “obvious lie.”
- Mexican Spanish’s “vender la piña” meaning “selling the pineapple.” If you believed the hoax, you would say that you bought the pineapple. Or “pura piña” meaning “all pineapples” would be a way to express “pure lies.”
- Romanian’s “a aburi” meaning “to steam.” Similar to the English phrase “to blow smoke,” it’s used to convey manipulation, like what a politician might do to convince you that something is false.
Phrases Related to Relationship Manipulation
In addition, some languages have phrases that speak to the subtle manipulation within relationships.
For example, the phrase “desvalidación”, meaning “invalidation”, is often used in Spanish regarding toxic relationships. It’s used to talk about experiences that were invalidated by a partner who said it happened differently or wasn’t as significant as made out to be.
“Gaslighting” as a Part of Dynamic Language Evolution
Ultimately, many cultures worldwide engage in some degree of truth-bending. Even at a personal level, we may tell a “white lie” to avoid hurting somebody’s feelings.
Yet, as Word of the Year, “gaslighting” – and its different truth-bending variations worldwide – speaks to something deeper within our society today, where fake news, conspiracy theories and misinformation have become the norm in our dialogue.
At Multilingual Connections, we always stay on top of linguistic trends and witness how new concepts evolve in different languages – and of course, are intentional about how to translate them in linguistically and culturally relevant ways. Learn more about our expert translation team here.
Want to stay connected?
We periodically share news and updates around translation, language and culture. Rest assured we’ll never share your contact information with anyone!