[Ads-l] Verb form of gaslight used in script of video series "Being the Ricardos" circa 1953

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 23 09:54:08 UTC 2021

Amazon Prime Video is currently streaming a series based on the
relationship of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz with a script by Aaron
Sorkin. I have not watched this series.

Writer and academic Roxane Gay tweeted about a line spoken by the
fictional Lucille Ball (played by Nicole Kidman). Gay suggested that
the phrase “don’t gaslight me” was anachronistic for the early 1950s.

Tweeter: roxane gay @rgay
Timestamp: 11:21 PM · Dec 22, 2021·
[Begin tweet]
In The Ricardos movie, Lucy says “don’t gaslight me” and it’s so
annoying! There is no way she would have said that in the 1950s. How
did that get through?
[End tweet]

Writer Michael Chabon shared Gay's disappointment with the line.

Tweeter: Michael Chabon @michaelchabon
Replying to @rgay
Timestamp: 12:54 AM · Dec 23, 2021
[Begin tweet]
You are correct. If anyone referred to it to describe a parallel
situation, they said something like, “It was like in that movie *Gas
Light,” or,  “I felt like we were in *Gas Light.*. But this kind of
thing is commonplace (and drives me nuts).
[End tweet]

"Being the Ricardos" combined incidents that occurred at different
times according to "Entertainment Weekly". The "I Love Lucy" episode
depicted in Sorkin's script is based on season one "Fred and Ethel
Fight" aired in March 1952. The red scare incident depicted occurred
while a season three episode was being filmed. That episode aired Oct


The last extended ADS thread on the verb-gaslight topic occurred in
2017. At that time the earliest known published citation for the verb
form of gaslight occurred in 1961. Stephen Goranson found the cite.


[Begin excerpt from ADS message sent by Stephen Goranson]
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. 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[....]

P. 183 in Culture and Personality by Anthony F. C. Wallace (NY: Random
House, 1961, First Printing, confirmed on paper).
[End excerpt from ADS message sent by Stephen Goranson]

J. E. Lighter's "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang"
contained a pertinent entry indicating circulation in 1956.

[Begin excerpt from HDAS]
Gaslight v. [alluding to the film Gaslight (1944) . . .]
1956 N.Y.C. woman, age 41: To gaslight someone is to play tricks on
them to make them think they're crazy. It comes from the movie
[End excerpt from HDAS]


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

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