It’s time we declare, “Gategate.”
It’s been a long time coming. It started, of course, with the very famous scandal with the very silly name. When Republican operatives were caught breaking into Democratic headquarters, the resulting investigation was nicknamed for the complex where the incident occurred, “Watergate.” Now, that complex had only recently opened on the Potomac waterfront to a very poor critical reception, and the origin of its name is disputed. “Watergate” refers to either 1) a formal staircase built into the Potomac riverside to welcome foreign dignitaries arriving by water taxi (in an area of Washington called “Foggy Bottom”), or 2) for the opening lock to the nearby Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (once known as “The Grand Old Ditch”). Now, if you ask me, both Foggy Bottom and Grand Old Ditch would make truly great names for a political scandal involving a Republican president, but no, once the investigation of the Watergate Hotel became news, we were stuck with the mundane, “Watergate.”
Almost as soon as President Nixon resigned in August of 1974, the etymological vamping of Watergate began. In September of 1974, former Nixon speechwriter and New York Time columnist William Safire coined the term, “Vietgate” in reference to a proposed pardon of Viet Nam era draft dodgers. He later referred to President Carter’s troubles with his brother as “Billygate.” Safire created a blizzard of scandalous “-gates,” and would later admit he may have been “seeking to minimize the relative importance of the crimes committed by his former boss with this silliness.”
It worked and the pattern was set. In the years that followed, seemingly every scandal of any size was given the -gate. We’ve seen scandals involving office misbehavior (Filegate), babysitters (Nannygate), shoddy journalism (Rathergate), inappropriate selfies (Weinergate), and even a traffic jam possibly created by an overweight, arrogant, obnoxious, self-involved fan of the Dallas Cowboys (Bridgegate). The practice is so common that today the Oxford English Dictionary defines “-gate” as a “suffix denoting an actual or alleged scandal, especially one that involves a cover up.” But the ironic overuse of the term (Nipplegate?) has achieved exactly what William Safire intended: a minimization of the importance of the “scandal” being referenced.
It’s time we show “-gate” to the gate. It doesn’t matter whether it rhymes; “Deflategate” is just too easy and is an awful name for an incident that may affect the outcome of the Super Bowl.
We need to get back to truly awesome names for truly important incidents: “The Whisky Ring,” “Berlusconi Bunga Bunga,” “Chappaquiddick,” “Iran-Contra,” “Doping,” Abu-Ghraib,” “Black Sox.”
And don’t forget the granddaddy of them all: “Teapot Dome.”
Now THAT’S how to brand an imbroglio!