MIKE KEELER: English language works in a fun way

This example begins with the very famous scandal with the very silly name, “Watergate”, in reference to the hotel where the tragedy took place. Which is funny, because no one really knows why this place is called that. “Watergate” refers to 1) a formal staircase built into the Potomac River to accommodate foreign dignitaries arriving by water taxi (to an area of ​​Washington called “Foggy Bottom”), or 2) for the opening of the lock of Chesapeake and the nearby Ohio Canal (formerly known as the “Grand Old Ditch”).

Now, if you ask me, Foggy Bottom and Grand Old Ditch would make some really big names for a political scandal, but no, once the Watergate Hotel investigation became news we were stuck with the mundane, ” Watergate ”.


Almost as soon as President Nixon resigned in August 1974, etymological vamping began. In September 1974, former Nixon speechwriter and New York Times columnist William Safire coined the term “Vietgate” in reference to a forgiveness proposition from Vietnamese-era crooks. He later called President Carter’s problems with his brother “Billygate”. Safire created a storm of outrageous “doors”, and would later admit that he “sought to downplay the relative importance of the crimes his former boss committed with this nonsense.”

It worked. And the pattern was established. In the years that followed, apparently, all scandals, regardless of their magnitude, got the door. We’ve seen scandals involving misconduct in the office (Filegate), babysitters (Nannygate), shoddy journalism (Rathergate), inappropriate selfies (Weinergate) and even traffic jam created by overweight, arrogant, obnoxious. , crouching on a beach chair, involved self-fan of the Dallas Cowboys (Bridgegate).

The practice is so common that the Oxford English Dictionary defines “-gate” as a “suffix denoting an actual or suspected scandal, especially one involving cover-up.” But the ironic overuse of the term (Nipplegate?) Achieved exactly what William Safire wanted: a downplaying of the significance of the “scandal” referred to.

A few years ago I wrote that was enough, we had to go through all these doors, even though “Deflategate” had a nice poetic touch. We had to go back to much more colorful and unique labels for these moments in history, worthy of their importance and their unique character. I mean, who doesn’t shudder to the sound of “Black Sox”, “The Whiskey Ring”, “Chappaquiddick”, “Iran-Contra” and “Berlusconi Bunga Bunga”?

And we must never forget the linguistic grandfather of all: “The Teapot Dome”. This is how to mark an imbroglio!

But now I admit I was wrong. There was still one episode left in the tank, one last hurray for our stupid outrageous suffix. This one refers to a developing high-level criminal investigation into the actions of a telegenic but brainless congressman with a taste for fame, a nose just made for browning, a penchant for crossing the boundaries of l ‘State to pay for sex with minors while documenting it. on his cell phone.

My fellow citizens, we have reached the top. I present the superlative, the supreme, the sovereign of scandalous nicknames.


Mike Keeler

– Mike Keeler

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