The use of the
suffix –gate following
a relevant word to refer to scandals (such as Irangate, or more
has long been a media trope. Most people are already aware of the origin: Watergate,
the shorthand used for the scandal in which the offices of the Democratic
National Committee were burglarized, with an investigation later revealing that
the burglary was covered up by high-level officials in the administration of
U.S. President Richard M. Nixon. The name Watergate refers
to the name of the office complex, located in the Foggy Bottom district of
Washington, D.C., consisting of office buildings, apartments, and the Watergate
ultimately led to Nixon resigning from the presidency in August 1974. But by
then, Watergate was
itself used for scandals likened to Watergate for their levels of concealment
“Why obviously?” “Jesus, Doctor!” He was momentarily
indignant. “What sort of a question is that? A Central American Watergate you
want now?” “I only asked.”
— Eric Ambler, Doctor Frigo,
By the time of
Nixon’s resignation, the use of –gate as
a somewhat mocking way to suffix the names of scandals (political or otherwise)
had already taken hold in the American media and continued throughout the
Last week the French
wine industry was in ferment over the disclosure of a fraudulent scheme to
peddle cheap wine as expensive Bordeaux … “You’ll think it’s exaggerating to
say this, but the U.S. had Watergate and now we have our winegate,” a Bordeaux
journalist told Newsweek’s Seth Goldschlager.
10 Sept. 1973
allegedly falsified records, fed incriminating evidence through a paper
shredder and conducted a cover-up so pervasive that one investigator calls it
“Ice Cream Gate.”
18 Aug. 1975
Since obscenity is known to be the most low-investment-high-return
of all businesses, there should be an investigation to ascertain whether
payoffs are blocking enforcement of the law. May we have a burlesk-gate on our hands.
— The Pueblo
Star-Journal, 17 May 1979
Some instances of
the –gate suffix
led to serendipitously punny phrasings that were likely too juicy for a writer
to pass up.
appending –gate to
the last name of Daniel J. Flood, a long-serving U.S. Representative from
Pennsylvania, yielded Floodgate when
accusations surfaced in 1978 that he used his office to direct money and
contracts to favored people and corporations in exchange for kickbacks.
In the 1980s, a
scandal involving sexual misconduct and misappropriation of funds by the
televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker led to New York Times columnist Russel
Baker to coin the name PearlyGate,
cleverly echoing the phrase pearly
gates, envisioned as the place where one earns entrance to
Heaven as described in Revelation 21:21.
The –gate suffix has
continued to be applied to more recent scandals, generations after its
originator, seemingly with the paradoxical effect of simultaneously magnifying
and diminishing the affair in question.
the name for what was known more descriptively as the Fort Lee Lane Closure
Scandal, in which lanes at the toll plaza on the upper level of the George
Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey were closed by members of the
administration of New Jersey governor Chris Christie purportedly as an act of
retribution against Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich.
When New England
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was accused of using underinflated footballs
during the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts in January
2015—a violation that ultimately resulted in Brady receiving a four-game
suspension the following season—the scandal became known in the media as Deflategate.
And there are dozens
of others, before and after and in between: Nipplegate (in
which Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed during the Super Bowl halftime
show); Skategate (a
judging scandal regarding the pairs’ figure skating event at the 2002 Winter
Olympics); and Spygate (another
scandal involving the New England Patriots, accused of using video equipment to
record the signals used by their opponents).
For every scandal, it seems, there will always be a
gate. Remember to close it on your way out.
To read the article in full, please visit the website: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/gate-suffix-scandal-word-history