Ever notice, dear hypothetical reader, that while you’re out and about on these here interwebs that there seems to be an awful lot of controversies going on that seem to have been instigated by gates. Once trusted guardians of area security seem to have their hands in a lot of dodgy dealings I can tell you, and I don’t think I’ll ever trust them again, or their shady consorts railings. Ok, in case you haven’t guessed yet I’m being facetious for comedic effect, but in all honesty, the phrase “-gate” tends to get added to pretty much every controversy big or small these days. Sometimes it’s by the media, other times it’s by normal folk, but always with a weary sense of inevitability.
Quick condensed history lesson to make sure we’re all on the right page: The term originates from the Watergate scandal of early 1970s America, where President Nixon’s office was involved in shady dealings up to and including bugging the opposition offices in the titular Watergate complex. This led to Nixon being the only US president to resign from office (to date anyway). This, understandably, engrained the phrase “Watergate” on the public conscience over there and according to my brief research on the subject the “-gate” suffix as a shorthand for controversy saw use as early as 1974, and from then on engrained itself upon the English language for better or worst.
Now, despite the term dating from nearly 40 years ago, I’ve noticed how the term has become more and more common, especially my side of the Atlantic. Just this handy dandy list off of Wikipedia (I know, I Know, but work with me here) shows quite how many “-gates” have occurred in a major public light since the phrase was first coined. Presumably the vast majority of these are names ascribed by the media for the event (although a fair few were also publicly sourced names, just from observation of them). And it’s likely the media usage which gave rise to the public usage. It’s quite obvious why the suffix became common place, the media often needs a quick way to “humanise” the news, leading to shorthand phrases becoming commonplace. Those which succeed fast end up much like generalised trademarks (something I want to write about some other time) engrain themselves into the way we speak.
The weird thing about the “-gates” is that there is very little qualification needed for something to become a “-gate.” To prove this, here’s a few recent and noteworthy “-gates” just off the top of my head: Sachsgate, where two famous idiots made distasteful prank calls to a “national treasure” actor; Bendgate, where the iPhone 6 was proven to bend if you bend it; Plebgate, which started as how members of parliament treated the police and metamorphosed into a scandal about police integrity after some shady dealings were uncovered, and Gamergate, which is a vicious mess about gamer culture where a few valid points have been buried by a tidal wave of bile and hatred (and I shall say no more about the matter). See what I mean? There’s no single level of controversy, no single area, nothing. It seems to truly have become a catch-all generic term.
And therein lies the issue, I think. When something gains a popular name, I personally like it to be indicative of what’s actually going on. The more generic, the more confusion that comes from it. Let’s talk some hypotheticals here, lets assume something happens called Energygate (there may already be one, but who cares). It’s not immediately apparent if it’s about power companies, energy drinks, energy efficiency, something scientific or anything. Now if it had a more specific name like “The Lemon Energy Scandal” it becomes a bit more clear it’s about something specific, hopefully energy drinks (or Cave Johnson is up to old tricks). Anything that reduces viewer confusion can only be a good thing.
I guess what I’m getting at is the name doesn’t really add anything to the matter at hand. After nearly 40 years, maybe it’s time to put the suffix to bed and start being a bit more original about our euphemistic names for scandals big and small. Although this basically means asking the mainstream media to be actually think a bit more than then do already, which doesn’t sound like an easy proposition in the slightest. Still, it’s worth a thought next time you start something controversial.
Until Next Time, folks,
–Wary of damn gates. Still.