The origins of the word “Gaslighting”: scenes from the 1944 movie Gaslight

You are not out of your mind. You are slowly and systematically expelled from your mind. – Joseph Cotton to Ingrid Bergman In the 1944 movie Gaslight.

Remember when the word “gaslighting” elicited knowing nods from black and white movie buffs… and blank looks from just about everyone else?

Then came 2016, and the gas lamp entered the lexicon in a big way.

Merriam-Webster defines it as “psychological manipulation of a person over an extended period of time that usually causes the victim to question the correctness of his thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and usually results in confusion and loss of self-confidence. – appreciation, uncertainty about emotional or mental stability and dependence on the offender”.

Of course, you already knew that!

“Gas lighting” is inevitable these days, five years after it was named the “most useful” and “likely to succeed” of 2016 by the American Dialect Association.

(“Normalization” was a runner-up.)

As long as we play word games, are you familiar with ‘naming’?

Also known as “verbing” or “verbification”, this is the process by which a noun is rearranged as a verb.

Both appear prominently in Gaslight.

did you see the movie?

Ingrid Bergman, who played her opposite Charles Boyer, won an Academy Award for her performance. Angela Lansbury as a teenager first appeared on the big screen.

In his review, New York times’ Film critic Bosley Crowther shied away from spoilers, while musing that the bulk of the audience that goes to the theater may already have been on the verge of indulging in central vanity, following the success of Broadway. Angel StreetPatrick Hamilton, the thriller on which the film is based:

We can at least spoil the information that the study is entirely concerned with the husband’s apparent attempts to slowly drive his wife crazy. With Mr. Boyer driving in his hypnotic best, while flames grotesquely glow in the jets of gas and moody music chimes with stern threats, it is no wonder that Miss Bergman disintegrates in the most sad way.

In the same review, Crowther cut that out Gaslight It was a ‘title that shines no more’ than Angel Street.

This may have been true in 1944. Not anymore!

(We are good linguists, if the movie had kept the title of the play, we might have found in 2022 complaining that some miscreants had tried to take refuge in Angel Street for us…)

In a column about production design for movie experience, critic Daniel Walber points out how Boyer destabilizes Bergman by bluffing with its gas-powered lamps, as well as how the Academy Award-winning design team used the gas-lit Victorian London movie “Low Time” to set an alarming mood:

Between the street lighting outside and the indoor fixtures, the ambiance is forever dim. The heaviness of the atmosphere brings us closer to Paula’s mental state, making us trapped with it. The details are so meticulous, so observant that every flash crawls under the skin, creating terrible uncertainty and fear for the audience.

Readers who haven’t seen the movie yet may want to skip the clip below, as it contains something close to a spoiler.

Those who were on the receiving end of the aggressive gas campaign?

Pass the popcorn.

Related content:

Ingrid Bergman remembers how Ernest Hemingway helped her get a role for Whom the Bell To Ring

Alfred Hitchcock recalls working with Salvador Dali on Spellbound: “No, you can’t pour live ants all over Ingrid Bergman!”

Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Corrupt All Truth and Morality: Insights from the Origins of Totalitarianism

ion halliday He is the chief medical specialist for East Village Enki Zain and the author of the latest Creative, Unpopular: The Little Potato Manifesto. follow her Tweet embed.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo