Gaslighting and Selling the Sizzle

Hi AC,

Just a quick question for you-- actually there are 2 questions. First, is the term " gaslight" in use? I reorganized our kitchen this weekend and my husband said something to the effect of "you are trying to gaslight me... the kitchen table keeps moving" (I had been playing around with the position of the kitchen table.) Gaslight means annoyance??

The other one was " sell the sizzle and not the steak". I'm not sure how he used it-- I just remember at some point asking myself " Where does this come from?"


Dear Lorna,

Although "sell the sizzle and not the steak" was originated by legendary salesman and motivational speaker Elmer Wheeler way back in the 1930s, it's still in use in sales and advertising circles. The expression refers to the importance of marketing excitement for a product instead of the product itself. For example, "Mazda has four-wheel drive" is steak. "Zoom-zoom" is sizzle.

As for your other question, to gaslight someone is to drive them crazy by intentionally confusing them. It comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which sweet heiress Ingrid Bergman marries creepy Charles Boyer, who hopes to get her inheritance by driving her insane. He convinces her she's seeing and hearing things that don't exist, including the gaslights (what they had before light bulbs) going on and off when he isn't home.

"Gaslighting" is still in use, but it's not very common. It's most famous appearance in recent years is probably in the song "Gaslighting Abbie" (2000) by Steely Dan, which describes gaslighting as a "a luscious invention for three, one summer by the sea." Their explanation of how to gaslight someone is as follows:

...we'll do a fright night
With blood and everything
Some punky laughter from the kitchen
And then - a nice relaxing hand of solitaire

Note to self: do not take a summer vacation with members of Steely Dan. Anyway, I hope you aren't really trying to gaslight your husband (unless he has a large inheritance, in which case - good luck!)

Your pal,


A.C. Kemp

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