Words of the year 2022: We were gaslit in goblin mode

Leading dictionaries pick "gaslighting" and "goblin mode" as the English words of the year. Well, how appropriate!

By Kirk Swearingen

Contributing Writer

Published December 25, 2022 6:00AM (EST)

Red card, with the word "gaslighting" written in black, and burnt matches around it (Getty Images/Daniele Mezzadri)
Red card, with the word "gaslighting" written in black, and burnt matches around it (Getty Images/Daniele Mezzadri)

This article originally appeared at Politically Speaking on Medium, in slightly different form. Used by permission.

The words of 2022 were "goblin mode," in the United Kingdom, and "gaslight," in the United States.

In these times of the right's determined distribution of disinformation, conspiracy theories and lazy thinking, those choices make perfect sense.

We are all now more than familiar with gaslighting, which dates back to the original 1940 film "Gaslight," (remade by MGM in 1944, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman), in which a deceitful husband repeatedly lies to his wife about many things, including the gas lamps dimming in the lower part of the house as he secretly lights lamps in the attic, in an effort to shake her sanity.

A real-life example of gaslighting, the word of 2022 selected by the folks at the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, would be, for instance, Donald Trump insisting that he is a good businessman or that the 2020 election was stolen. When any of the scores of open traitors in Congress, like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Josh Hawley, refer to themselves as patriots, that would also be gaslighting. The claim in no way fits the reality, and it refutes what anyone of good faith can plainly see, that these people violated their oaths of office and should not be allowed to serve again at any level.

Nazi propagandists knew all about gaslighting, about how if you repeat an untruth over and over again, a surprisingly large percentage of people come to believe it, even in the face of contrary evidence. In recent years there's been no end to the GOP's efforts to gaslight the public, from Trump's ceaseless lies about voter fraud to his claim that all presidents walk away with classified documents to his habit of referring to himself as one of the greatest presidents of all time ("Better than Lincoln, better than Washington").

Earlier this year, I wrote about how Republicans have tried to gaslight us on their "originalist" view of the Constitution, on liberals as sexual deviants, on liberals as an oppressive "elite," on mass shootings in America being "unthinkable" and on how somebody or other (it's never clear who) is coming for you and all your stuff.

"Goblin mode" was new to me. As the Oxford English Dictionary has it, the 2022 winner describes behavior that is "unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations."

For some, the term can describe positive behavior, describing people who reject unnecessary societal norms, which many have done in the face of the pandemic. One could also say that many Republican leaders have been in goblin mode since their frat-boy days, or at least since the Age of Rush and Newt, when they were trained to despise members the opposing party and do absolutely everything to prevent government from functioning normally.

Let's try it in a sentence:

As president, Trump was in goblin mode from the first day he took office, when he watched television all morning in what he called "executive time" [spot the gaslighting?], to his determined effort to attack his own government and destroy all norms, all the way to his lazy, unconcerned response to the Department of Justice's attempts to retrieve stolen classified documents.

The disgraced, twice-impeached, document-stealing, insurrection-fomenting, perpetually lying former president has been in goblin mode since childhood, allegedly cheating to get into college; cheating on his wives, apparently even when they were expectingharassing, groping and sexually assaulting women ("I don't even wait…"); and cheating competitors (not to mention taxpayers) while playing golf, a game based on personal honor.

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But in our era of trolls (meaning those unhappy fellows who find deep satisfaction in annoying others, for example as the proprietor of Twitter), these words bubbling to the top make perfect sense. Because what the far right desires most is never again to have to present policy options — all that hard work of thinking things through and making compromises! — and just somehow "MAGA" a version of America that never existed or even a feudal state of play, where women and other serfs and peasants know their place and only the truly deserving people (who largely happen to be rich white Christian men) have a say in running a government devoted to keeping the masses down.

Think "Game of Thrones," with the dragons replaced by white nationalist cretins who now apparently are game to attack their own country's critical infrastructure and scientific advances like the COVID vaccines that are still saving lives.

Speaking of cretins, Elon Musk has repeatedly huffed and puffed and blown his ram's horn, inviting all exiled trolls back to Twitter so they can taunt and gaslight the public to their heart's content, while he himself, in hyper-goblin mode, repeatedly threatens the ever-shrinking staff of his own company.

Our twice-impeached, document-stealing, insurrection-fomenting former president is a master gaslighter, and has been in goblin mode since childhood.

Five conservative Catholics dominate the Supreme Court, a few of whom appear to definitely hold medieval views on personal freedom and "religious liberty." They gaslight the public by claiming not to be partisan hacks while being wined and dined by conservative groups. Both Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas are perpetually and gleefully in goblin mode, the former overturning Roe while quoting 17th-century English jurist Matthew Hale, who was happy to excuse marital rape and to put women to death for witchcraft, and the latter refusing to recuse himself from cases pertaining to Trump's attempted coup, which Thomas' wife worked diligently to foment.

Filmmaker, activist and all-around mensch Michael Moore may dress like he's in goblin mode, but is decidedly not. He correctly predicted there would be no red wave in the 2022 midterms and worked hard to convince the rest of us not to give up hope. He describes those five justices as "priests" in their robes handing down theocratic decisions. As Moore has put it, though the corporate media did its utmost to downplay this, one of the top reasons Republicans did not do nearly as well in the midterms as they hoped was pretty simple: "The right-wing Supreme Court issued a religious edict on June 24 reminding women they are second-class citizens."

In addition, Florida senator and infamous Medicare fraudster Rick Scott annoyed Mitch McConnell and others in the GOP by not gaslighting the public about Republican intentions. He did us all a favor by publishing his infamous 11-point plan to remake our democracy into a theocracy headed by religious zealots, one free of those endless "entitlements" of Medicare, food stamps and Social Security.

As it turned out, most Americans prefer living in a democratic republic that offers at least some semblance of a social safety net.

Armed with these two highly useful and relevant terms, "gaslighting" and "goblin mode," we can hope a majority of Americans will continue to see the endless nonsense coming from the right — especially from its abusive cult leader — in a way many on the right no longer can. As the people who run these high-profile dictionaries know, words matter.

By Kirk Swearingen

Kirk Swearingen is a poet and independent journalist. He is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, and his work has appeared in Delmar, MARGIE, Bloom, the American Journal of Poetry, Riverfront Times, Medium and Salon.

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Commentary Dictionaries Donald Trump Gaslighting Goblin Mode Language Republicans