The News Minute | March 10, 2015 | 3:28 pm IST
It was around forty years ago that we came across "Watergate", a political scandal that cost then President of the United States Richard Nixon his job.
Set after the name of the Watergate office complex, the "gate" in the 1970s scandal, seems to have become synonymous with scandals across the world. The suffix "gate" has been used to describe a plethora of scandals, scams and controversies ever since- from Deflategate, Camillagate, Climategate, to the ones closer home including Coalgate, Nannygate, Monkeygate and Porngate.
In fact in India, the first reference to 'gate' seems to have originated in 2008 when Harbhajan Singh slapped Sreesanth after an IPL match. The scandal was called 'Slapgate' by the Indian media.
A journalist who used to work with an Indian TV channel then says, "Everything which has more than two days of coverage becomes gate automatically. So many stories were affixed with 'gate'."
Wikipedia even has a List of scandals with "-gate" suffix, with names running into scores.
A recent report in the Columbia Journalism Review , titled "Gate-keepers", asks whether it is time journalists stopped adding "gate" to every scandal. "Social media users are quick to slap the four-letter distinction on questionable situations - journalists are not the gate-keepers they once were - and critics have seemingly accelerated their calls to lay the suffix to rest", reads part of the report.
CJR also published a graphic in which it lists the name of several such scandals, from the ones that are "justified" to the "absurd".
A 2013 report by the BBC, quotes Ian Brookes, consultant editor on the Collins English Dictionary, as saying that "gate" was recognised formally as a suffix in its own right in 1991. Brookes said, "Its usage within journalism is so pervasive that people with no knowledge of the Watergate scandal would have no problem understanding what was meant by a word like Bloodgate".
"What is most interesting is that there is no semantic element within the word 'gate' which means anything about scandal. Most suffixes have some grounding, maybe from Greek or Latin", he added.
Newspaper columnist John Rentoul told the BBC that it was so frequently used in the "journalistic ecosystem that it is on the edge of cliche and on its way to becoming an idiom".
"I have no objection to its use among consenting adult journalists in conversation, but using it in print just betrays a lack of imagination", Rentoul said.
In an article on The Daily Dot, Nico Lang writes, "the '-gate” suffix doesn’t just cheapen the issues. It has a way of obscuring them entirely".
Rem Rieder wrote in the USA Today that the "gate business" is "not cute. It's not cool. It's not clever". Apart from the suffix being "lazy", "predictable" and "really annoying", Reider wrote "there is a more serious reason to show gate to the gate. By awarding the suffix to everything from serious government misconduct to the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII (surely you remember Nipplegate), you create a false equivalency that ends up trivializing everything".
However, Monica Hesse in a 2012 report in The Washington Post, titled "We can’t have a scandal without the -gate", points out "It will never be possible".