gaslighting
Posted: 12 August 2019 06:09 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I understand that “Gas Light”, a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton, turned into “gaslighting” which means to manipulate someone psychologically? To me, it was always a bit of a stretch in the first place, but for folks to continue to use the word after all these years feels like worn overkill. After all, very few folks today have seen that play, or the movie. It seems odd that it would endure this long.

I heard it used on a TV news show today referencing a political technique of manipulation.

Dave posted this in the Big List re 1965 words: gaslighting, n.2 George Cukor’s film Gaslight, about a husband who makes his wife doubt her own sanity, came out in 1944, but it took over twenty years for the title to become a term for such psychological manipulation.

For it to take so long to take root in the first place is proof enought to me that it should never have become what it is, still today.

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Posted: 12 August 2019 09:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I can’t really relate to your objection. Some expressions exist for literally hundreds of years after the original cause and context for the expression have fallen into obscurity.

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Posted: 13 August 2019 12:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Eyehawk: I also disagree with you, on a number of levels.

For one, the statement that ‘very few folks today have seen that play, or the movie.’ Not so. If you care to wiki-check the play you’ll see that is has been revived a number of times right up to this century, and the movie (it was actually made into a feature film twice, but the 1944 Charles Boyer/Ingrid Bergman version is the biggie), which was nominated for seven Oscars and won two, was not only a big box-office success but is an acknowledged classic of film noir - which, in the UK at least, has been repeatedly shown on TV. That’s how I saw it in my youth, at least twice, and vaguely noticed it in the listings several other times. So millions of people who aren’t even fans of film noir or Gothic must have seen it. And it’s the nature of the 20th-century cinema phenomenon that if a film was successful enough, even people who never have seen it know about it. (Heck, I’ve never seen Sunset Boulevard and probably never will, but I know Gloria Swanson said ‘I am big: It’s the pictures that got small.’)

For two, the word was actually being used before 1965. The OED’s first citations for the verb and noun forms are:

1961 A. S. C. Wallace Culture & Personality 183 It is also popularly believed to be possible to ‘gaslight’ a perfectly healthy person into psychosis by interpreting his own behavior to him as symptomatic of serious mental illness.

1961 A. S. C. Wallace Culture & Personality 183 While ‘gaslighting’ itself may be a mythical crime, there is no question that any social attitude which interprets a given behavior or experience as symptomatic of a generalized incompetence is a powerful creator of shame.

Anthony Wallace was a highly-respected Canadian-American anthropologist. His remarks suggest strongly that he didn’t invent the word but found it already in popular use; in which case Dave may be wrong to suggest that ‘late-night reruns of old movies on television gave birth to gaslighting‘. If it was already a slang term in the late 1950s, it may easily have been coined by people who saw it in the cinema in the 1940s and were mightily impressed by this study of psychological manipulation. It’s true that the term is currently being used much more widely in public discourse than ever before. That’s not unusual: interest in social and psychological behaviours and syndromes - and thus the need to name them - is strongly tied to the Zeitgeist. (Hans Asperger first published his study of a syndrome he had identified, in German, in 1944, the same year the Boyer/Bergman Gaslight was released. The first English-language citation the OED has found is from a specialist psychiatric journal in 1965, but it took decades more before Asperger(’s) became a term familiar to the general public.)

For it to take so long to take root in the first place is proof enought to me that it should never have become what it is, still today.

Why, exactly? Do you contend that the phenomenon signified by gaslighting (which is a much more specific term than simple ‘psychological manipulation’, and is more typically domestic than political) doesn’t exist and therefore doesn’t need a name?  Or that psychological terms shouldn’t be coined for a non-contemporary literary/dramatic work? (Where would that leave the ‘Oedipus complex’?) Or is your real gripe that it has no business to be named after a play and movies that you haven’t seen?

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Posted: 16 August 2019 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I don’t really understand the objection either. Something happens in a work of fiction, someone uses it to refer metaphorically to examples of a phenomenon that occurs in the real world, and if enough people pick it up, it becomes a part of the language, and is used by people who may not have come into direct contact with the work of fiction. Has everyone who refers to jumping the shark seen Happy Days, and if someone calls another a bit of a Walter Mitty type, have they read Thurber? You’d have more reason behind you objecting to the latter, as the term is generally used for someone who misrepresents themselves to others, rather different from the harmless fantasist of the story, who wasn’t up to doing much of anything apart from dream.

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Posted: 16 August 2019 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Uncle!

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