[Ads-l] "Gaslight" as a verb only five decades old

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 11 16:43:52 EST 2017

I wish I could name the episode for you that I have in mind, and I regret
that my once (unfortunately) photographic memory of HDAS I is no longer
quite reliable.

I *did* hear the word in 1956 (as a child - so perhaps that attestation
will be disregarded). I remembered it clearly when I wrote it on an index
card in 1968 - one of the first slang cards I jotted down. The speaker was
my mother, who alluded in my childhood several times to _Gaslight_.

I cannot name the TV episode, which I must have seen later, but I do know
that the word struck me as both weird and fascinating in 1956. (Very, very
few oral exx. are cited in HDAS before I got serious about slang collecting
in 1969-70.)

FWIW, my mind's eye shows Lucy saying the word to Ethel in some such phrase
as "We'll gaslight him" (Desi, presumably.) She then explained precisely
what that meant.

Could it have been another show? Maybe. But the concept seems especially

Irrespective of the above, the likelihood that the verb arose in reference
to the nationally popular Boyer-Bergman movie not terribly long after it
became famous must be close to 100%. As a simple verbalization, it seems
unavoidable.  Which is not at all to say that everyone used it.


On Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 11:22 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:

> There's a 1956 "I Love Lucy" episode called "Lucy Meets Charles Boyer," in
> which Ricky conspires with Charles Boyer to make Lucy think that Boyer is
> merely a lookalike. There are obvious parallels to "Gaslight," but I
> watched the episode here and I didn't hear anything about "gaslighting":
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEg-3yqLLVQ
> --Ben
> On Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 10:49 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> > Jon: The earliest HDAS cite is from 1956, quoting an unnamed NYC woman,
> > age 41. There's nothing about "I Love Lucy," and I've never heard
> anything
> > about the show spreading the word. Do you have more information on this
> you
> > can share?
> >
> > --Ben
> >
> >
> > On Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 11:11 AM, Jonathan Lighter <
> wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>
> > wrote:
> >
> >> Check HDAS, with earlier cite from "I Love Lucy" - which probably
> >> popularized the verb through infinite reruns.
> >>
> >> JL
> >>
> >> On Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 10:28 AM, Yagoda, Ben <byagoda at udel.edu> wrote:
> >>
> >> > George Cukor’s 1944 film was in turn based on a 1938 play by Patrick
> >> > Hamilton. The OED’s first citation for “gaslight” as a  verb is a
> >> sentence
> >> > from a 1965 article in “The Reporter”: "Some troubled persons having
> >> even
> >> > gone so far as to charge malicious intent and premeditated
> >> ‘gaslighting.’”
> >> >
> >>
> >
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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