G is for Gaslighting

When I was living in Charlotte, NC for a few months in early 1977, I wasn’t particularly thrilled. The city was, in the words of my father “a big old country town”; BTW, it’s gotten much better there, IMO.

One of my few outlets was to go to the main library and read books and magazines, or see movies. One of the films I saw was Gaslight. It was the 1944 US version, not the 1940 UK take; both were based on a 1938 play, Gas Light. The iteration I saw “was directed by George Cukor and starred Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in her screen debut.”

Without getting into the particulars of why: “Paula loses a brooch that Gregory had given her, despite its having been stored safely in her handbag. A picture disappears from the walls of the house, and Gregory says that Paula took it, but Paula has no recollection of having done so. Paula also hears footsteps coming from above her, in the sealed attic, and sees the gaslights dim and brighten for no apparent reason. Gregory suggests that these are all figments of Paula’s imagination. Gregory does everything in his power to isolate his wife from other people.” In other words, Gregory is trying to make Paula think she is going crazy, and nearly succeeds.

From these movies, and the play, came the term gaslighting, which “has come to describe a pattern of psychological abuse in which the victim is gradually manipulated into doubting his or her own reality. This can involve physical tactics (such as moving or hiding objects) or emotional ones (such as denying one’s own abusive behavior to a victim.)” I thought it was a nifty term, and have used it regularly since.

I am watching the game show JEOPARDY! which is my wont. Episode #6428, which aired 2012-07-25, in the category “GAS” UP (which means the letters GAS appears in the correct response). The $600 clue: “To manipulate events, as Charles Boyer does to Ingrid Bergman to make her think she’s crazy.” I say “to gaslight”; none of the three contestants even rings in. Then I ask other people. No one seems to know this verb, except for my wife, and she only recognizes it because I’ve used it so much.

So I commit to you the word “gaslighting.” Use it in good health; don’t let it make you go crazy.

ABC Wednesday – Round 12

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36 thoughts on “G is for Gaslighting

  1. Honestly, I’d never heard of the verb “to gaslight”, though I think it will be useful in the future. Be that as it may, you have NO idea how many times I’ve said in a bad imitation of Charles Boyer, “Oh, silly Paula!” Surprisingly, no one seems to get that cultural reference.

  2. Because of the Steely Dan song “Gaslighting Abbie”, I had wondered for a while what gaslighting meant. I never looked it up. Very interesting how this term came about.

  3. I saw this movie and found it very. thrilling! So to gaslight is a verb now? It often happens in Englsh that a noun is converted into a verb. The newest noun becoming more and more used as a verb is Google. If I don’t know the meaning of a word I google it. Thanks for the interesting post.
    Wil

  4. Interesting! Even though I’m a psychologist. I do have the excuse that I came to live here later in life, and am not a movie buff, notorious for forgetting plots of movies. So, thank you for sharing!

  5. Oh, my goodness, such memories I have of Charles Boyer with your word! He was one of my favorites when I was a kid. I even watched, at the age of 13, a channel that was much like TMC. I watched films from the 1930-1940s. At that age, I considered films 20 or so years old- ancient. Our age does change our perspective on what is ancient. 🙂

  6. Roger, I honestly thought I coined the term “gaslighting” years ago, in response to one prankster at our restaurant who always hid my keys, my shoes…

    The other term I believe I DID coin is “rosebudding,” as in “Don’t give away the end of the movie!” This term arose years ago, specifically because my ex told someone who was about to go into a theatre and see “Citizen Kane” on widescreen (a newbie to Welles), “Oh, that’s the one where “Rosebud” turns out to be…” (I will not “rosebud” anyone here, either!!”

    I was never much for Boyer, always seemed too slick, to icky-French, not endearing French. Chevalier is icky-French, too, but that’s because he entertained all the Nazis in Paris and did not participate in the resistance. “Zey are here to see me and, vell, a geeeg is a geeeg.” Amy

  7. Good old movie and I must run with the wrong sort of crowd (you know,readers!)because the word “gaslighting ” used as a term for deception and manipulation was the first thing I thought of!

  8. Wow, I only know ‘gaslighting’ as a term because I love that movie! So creepy and perfectly so. I showed it to a good friend in college (long, long ago) and she was convinced her then-boyfriend was subjecting her to gaslighting, yikes. Needless to say, the movie and ‘gaslight’ have made a big impression on my life, thanks for this!

  9. Never heard the term in that context. I’ve seen the film but can’t remember which version, interesting that the husband in both were both from continental Europe, shorthand in a cinematic context for spot the villain:-) Although Boyer was famously called ‘the last of the Cinemas great lovers’.

  10. learned something new today – gaslighting. i’ve seen so many movies with this theme and concept but have never heard this word. great read.

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