Archive for December 6th, 2010

In Defense of -Gate

Tim: You know what bothers me? People adding ‘-gate’ to the end of every scandal. Like this ‘Spygate’ thing. It doesn’t make sense. Watergate was a place–not a scandal about water.

Me: Yeah…

Tim: It’s like how we add ‘–oholic’ to the ends of things we’re addicted to, even though ‘-oholic’ is not a suffix.

Me: You’re right. Gateoholicgate is really quite the scandal.

—Conversation circa 2007

Like most fans of language, I find many of the linguistic phenomena of the last few years to be nonsensical, stupid, meaningless, and annoying. This was, basically, how I felt about the ‘-gate’ suffix we now habitually attach to every scandal. Since Tim and I first discussed this problem, we have seen Climategate, Troopergate, Kanyegate, Tigergate, Cablegate, and even something called “Sexy Photo Gate.” In fact, the suffix is now so common that it is attached to things that pass through the news cycle so quickly that they barely qualify as scandals.

My objections stemmed mainly from the historical inaccuracy of the source. As Tim said in the epigraph, the original “-gate” scandal, Watergate, was not a scandal about water, as the current usage would imply. More importantly, though, comparing Richard Nixon’s high crimes and conspiratorial nefariousness with a pop star who exposed her breast on television struck me as a false equivalency. Indeed, it was a brilliant political stroke by William Safire, who initially popularized the usage, at least in part to help dilute the impact of the crimes of his former boss. Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while telling WikiLeaks they couldn’t use our server….

  • John Paul Stevens was interviewed on 60 Minutes.  Even more interesting is the full transcript of his April interview with Jeffrey Rosen.