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The -Gates of Shame

Tracking the most scandalous of suffixes Troopergate is suddenly back in the political spotlight, thanks to the finding that Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin abused her power in lobbying for the firing of her ex-brother-in-law (a state trooper). With time, Troopergate..


Tracking the most scandalous of suffixes

Troopergate is suddenly back in the political spotlight, thanks to the finding that Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin abused her power in lobbying for the firing of her ex-brother-in-law (a state trooper).With time, Troopergate shall pass, but the -gate suffix isn't going anywhere. For thirty-six years, nearly every controversy, disgrace, and boo-boo in American politics (and beyond) has earned a -gate nickname. The term is appended to protracted brouhahas-Iran-Contragate, Rathergate, Plamegate, and Monicagate-and short-lived stories, like Dick Cheney's 2006 hunting mishap, which yielded quirky coinages such as Quailgate and Fuddgate. It makes you wonder how people talked about a scandal before Watergate.But why did -gate survive, and not water-, as the calling card for controversy? As Nixon's best-laid plans were unraveling, other short-lived coinages, such as Watergaffe, Watergoof, and Waterfallout, referred to the incident. If this had caught on, perhaps today we'd be talking about Watertrooper instead of Troopergate.Grant Barrett, editor of The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang and Double-Tongued Dictionary, says that much of the credit (and blame) for the spread of -gate goes to journalists looking for shorthand to succinctly describe a complex set of events. "Journalists like to exercise their coining power," Barrett explains. "They create new words and try to make them stick."So, -gate trumped -water, and as early as 1973, words like Winegate (a controversy among French winemakers) and Volgagate (a financial boondoggle in the former Soviet Union) popped up and were recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary, that motherfraker of all wordbooks.Flash forward 35 years, and -gate is such a productive, powerful suffix that people want to bump it up against everything. And with the frenzy of attention that's surrounded Palin since she appeared on the national scene, there has been a no shortage of opportunities to join -gate and the governor in worded bliss. Here's a few samples:BrotherInLawgate"I can't wait for the report to come out in Palin's BrotherInLawgate scandal. It will be great reading for this weekend." (Oct. 10, 2008, Times Union)Katie Couric-gate"Conclusion: Biden is the winner, while Palin improves from Katie Couric-gate. A few jabs are thrown, but Palin is able to maintain her sunny composure and Biden avoids the ‘gaffe a minute' label." (Oct. 2, 2008, Livejournal forum)Lipstick On A Pig-Gate"When the networks spent the day covering Lipstick On A Pig-Gate and everyone's reaction to that made up scandal, the real scandal of Trooper-Gate got glossed over for 24 hours. And that's exactly what they're going to keep doing until November." (Sept. 26, 2008, Forumopolis thread)Moosegate"Whether Moosegate will stain Palin's image is not clear. After all she did all she could for the moose; she ordered its alleged nemesis removed from the state payroll, never an easy thing to do. (Sept. 2, 2008, GropeStone Blog)PregnantDaughterGate"Now about this PregnantDaughterGate issue and the attacks on Palin's family: How dumb are the Dems looking now for all that? The insinuations she's a bad mother for not staying at home with her disabled child (or for having the child at all, rather than killing her)." (Sept. 4, 2008, I'm a Frickin' American Blog)Hell, even when these labels don't stick, let's face it: readers salivate when they see the -gate of a scandal. If there's a word that better captures the high cuckoo content of this year's campaign than lipstick on a pig-gate, I'd like to hear it … right now, in the comments, please.Image of Rodin's "Gates of Hell" by Flickr user MoToMo