[Ads-l] [Non-DoD Source] Re: "Gaslight" as a verb only five decades old

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 13 13:14:10 EST 2017


TV listings show that the film "Gaslight" was shown often and regularly throughout the 1950s, so the number of people who were aware of the association of "gaslight" with psychological torture may have been increasingly large throughout the decade, and given the larger reach of Television, likely even more so than during its initial release in the 1940s.


Jack Benny filmed a half-hour episode parody of Gaslight in 1953 with Barbara Stanwyck in the Bergman role, Benny as Boyer, and Bing Crosby as Joseph Cotten.  MGM sued to prevent its airing and it was hung up in the courts for six years. He lost at the Supreme Court, after which he paid an undisclosed (but presumably hefty) royalty to MGM for the right to air it (the jurisprudence surrounding the freedom to parody was not as advanced as it would later become).  They finally aired the episode in 1959.  Unknown whether they used it as a verb during the episode; and they were up against Maverick's parody of Gunsmoke in the same time slot, so they did not get as many viewers as they may otherwise have.


Benny's comments in the article about the episode and its legal difficulties illustrates that, like the verb "gaslight", everything old is new again:


"[W] might have won the decision last year if there had been a nine-man Supreme Court.  But at the time our case came up there were only eight justices."


Courier-Post (Camden NJ), January 10, 1959, page 20 (Newspapers.com).

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From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2017 9:40:34 AM
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Subject: Re: [Non-DoD Source] Re: "Gaslight" as a verb only five decades old

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Presumably a fair (though statistically insignificant) number of film-goers
independently  thought sooner or later to verbalize "gaslight."  And if the
written evidence has any bearing on actual usage, the verb was extremely
uncommon before the later '60s.  Certainly my mother was the only person I
ever heard use it - and possibly no more than once - though she alluded to
_Gaslight_ many times through the years: it was a running joke  (I'm even
more certain that she never used the forms "gaslit" or "gaslighted"; mostly
what she said was "Is this _Gaslight_?" or "This is like _Gaslight_!")

To "gaslight" would, however, have been most readily understood by the
largest number of hearers two decades earlier, in the late '40s, when the
film's audience (I assume) ran into  the millions. Every semantic,
grammatical, and social tendency its viability. was in place for the verb
to have had a long under-the-radar existence.

Besides the verb's ease of interpretation, its vividness and particularity
and the lack of a simple synonym must have added to its appeal.

What's interesting is that despite these factors it appears to have had no
existence of much significance to the history of the lexicon until much
later - possibly because few people would have had occasion to hear it - or
perhaps use it - more than a few times in a lifetime.

Compare the long existence in obscurity of various viruses before they
become significant threats to public health.  Words can behave similarly.

JL





On Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 11:47 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:

> Ben Yagoda, who initiated this thread, summarized our discussions of the
> history of the verb "gaslight" in his latest column for the Chronicle's
> Lingua Franca blog.
>
> http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2017/01/12/
> how-old-is-gaslight/
>
>
> On Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 6:20 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> > Here's an example of the verb "gaslight" in "The Grudge Match," an
> episode
> > of "Gomer Pyle: USMC" that aired on 12 Nov. 1965 (antedating OED's 1969
> > cite for the verb, as well as the Dec. 1965 cite for the verbal noun).
> >
> > http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0590040/
> > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DAnKkE0nrZx4 at 12:10
> > Duke: You know, you guys, I'm wondering. Maybe if we can't get through =
to
> > the Sarge we can get through to the Chief.
> > Frankie: How do you mean?
> > Duke: I mean psychological warfare.
> > Gomer: Huh?
> > Duke: The old war on nerves. We'll gaslight him.
> >
> > Later on (at about 17:35), Duke says:
> >
> > Oh, he was gaslit all right. If anyone was gaslit it was him. You see,
> > Gomer? Psychological warfare, it's the only thing that can save the
> Sarge.
> >
> > And at 19:30, Sarge says:
> >
> > That gaslighting worked on me too.
> >
> > On Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 5:20 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> >> I checked with Josh Chetwynd, and he shared a "gaslight" example from =
a
> >> 1952 episode of The Burns & Allen Show entitled "Gracie Buying Boat fo=
r
> >> George":
> >>
> >> http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1696383/
> >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DEG5BFBYo97M
> >>
> >> At 16:20 in the YouTube video, Harry (Fred Clark) says to Gracie, "Giv=
e
> >> him the gaslight treatment!" and then explains what that means. A bit
> later
> >> you hear George say, "So they sold Gracie on the gaslight bit."
> >>
> >> Could this be the original TV incarnation of "the gaslight
> >> treatment/bit"? (And could it be what JL was remembering?) Additional
> >> "Gaslight" references can be found here:
> >>
> >> http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036855/movieconnections
> >>
> >> --Ben
> >>
> >>
> >> On Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 4:23 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote=
:
> >>
> >>> In "Lucy Gets Mooney Fired," Lucy says, "We'll give Cheever the
> gaslight
> >>> treatment." At 11:55 here:
> >>>
> >>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DIN9ydOxNXhc
> >>>
> >>> Later, Mooney says to Lucy, "You may be able to work that gaslight
> stuff
> >>> with Mr. Cheever, but don't try to pull it on me."
> >>>
> >>> Close, but no verbing. "Gaslight treatment" does appear in print in
> >>> 1966, a year before the "Lucy Show" episode (but a year after the
> Reporter
> >>> article).
> >>>
> >>> ---
> >>> New York Amsterdam News, Mar. 26, 1966, p. 14, col. 1
> >>> "P.S." by Cathy W. Aldridge
> >>> In one household, the husband is giving the wife the "gaslight"
> >>> treatment, and in the other, the wife is "playing" like crazy.
> >>> ---
> >>>
> >>> From Josh Chetwynd's new book, _Totally Scripted: Idioms, Words, and
> >>> Quotes from Hollywood to Broadway That Have Changed the English
> Language_:
> >>>
> >>> ---
> >>> https://books.google.com/books?id=3Duwx5DQAAQBAJ&pg=3DPA72
> >>> At first, the idea of _gaslighting_ was picked up for benign purposes=
.
> >>> Beginning in the 1950s, TV sitcom writers named scenarios where one
> >>> character was fooling another as the _gaslight treatment_ or the
> _gaslight
> >>> bit_. Programs like _The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show_, _Car 54=
,
> >>> Where are You?_ and _Make Room for Daddy_ all used the _gaslight
> treatment_
> >>> to comedic effect.
> >>> ---
> >>>
> >>> On Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 12:22 PM, MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARM=
Y
> >>> RDECOM AMRDEC (US) <william.d.mullins18.civ at mail.mil> wrote:
> >>>
> >>>> I vaguely recall an episode of the The Lucy Show in which gaslightin=
g
> >>>> is a plot element.  Google reveals:
> >>>>
> >>>> "06) Episode 141: =E2=80=9CLucy Gets Mooney Fired=E2=80=9D (Aired: 1=
1/06/67 | Filmed:
> >>>> 09/21/67)
> >>>>
> >>>> Lucy inadvertently gets Mooney fired after she covers up a bank
> >>>> shortage. To convince Cheever to give Mooney his job back, Lucy give=
s
> him
> >>>> the Gaslight treatment.
> >>>>
> >>>> Written by Fred S. Fox and Seaman Jacobs
> >>>>
> >>>> I love how kooky this episode is WITHOUT managing to insult its
> >>>> audience=E2=80=99s intelligence. Taking a cue from Gaslight (1944), =
Lucy
> decides to
> >>>> make Cheever think he has gone crazy, so that he=E2=80=99ll agree to=
 rehire
> Mr.
> >>>> Mooney. The script itself isn=E2=80=99t that funny, but the bits Luc=
y does to
> make
> >>>> Cheever flip are great. This is, deservedly, a fan favorite."
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>> > -----Original Message-----
> >>>> > From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
> >>>> Behalf Of Ben Zimmer
> >>>> > Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2017 10:23 AM
> >>>> > To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> >>>> > Subject: [Non-DoD Source] Re: "Gaslight" as a verb only five decad=
es
> >>>> old
> >>>> >
> >>>> > All active links contained in this email were disabled.  Please
> >>>> verify the identity of the sender, and confirm the authenticity of
> all links
> >>>> > contained within the message prior to copying and pasting the
> address
> >>>> to a Web browser.
> >>>> >
> >>>> >
> >>>> >
> >>>> >
> >>>> > ----
> >>>> >
> >>>> > 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 anythin=
g
> about
> >>>> > "gaslighting":
> >>>> >
> >>>> > Caution-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DAEg-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 nev=
er
> >>>> > > heard anything about the show spreading the word. Do you have mo=
re
> >>>> > > 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 probab=
ly
> >>>> > >> 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=E2=80=99s 1944 film was in turn based on a 1938 =
play by
> >>>> > >> > Patrick Hamilton. The OED=E2=80=99s first citation for =E2=80=
=9Cgaslight=E2=80=9D as a
> >>>> > >> > verb is a
> >>>> > >> sentence
> >>>> > >> > from a 1965 article in =E2=80=9CThe Reporter=E2=80=9D: "Some =
troubled persons
> >>>> > >> > having
> >>>> > >> even
> >>>> > >> > gone so far as to charge malicious intent and premeditated
> >>>> > >> =E2=80=98gaslighting.=E2=80=99=E2=80=9D
> >>>> > >> >
> >>>> > >>
> >>>> > >
> >>>>
> >>>
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>



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