There can be few words in the English language with the sheer versatility of ‘gate’.
The noun, of course, usually refers to an outdoor portal, often with a structure to be opened and closed, though it does have other connotations.
In archaic English it also means ‘street’, and in my own ancient and mediaeval city of York, we still have many thoroughfares named in this way. We have, for example, Coppergate, Stonegate, and even a road so tiny that it bears the fantastic name of Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, meaning ‘Neither One Thing Nor The Other Street’.
In terms of a sporting event, the ‘gate’ can refer both to the number of spectators in attendance and to the amount of money thus generated; if a student is ‘gated’, this means he is confined to college grounds; and the derivations even extend to forenames (as with the Star Trek actress Gates McFadden) and surnames (like the billionaire Bill Gates). I could go on!
The most significant variant use of our subject word must surely, however, be attributed to events in the United States – a mercifully rare victory for American English. When President Richard Nixon was exposed as complicit in the 1972 burglary of Democratic Party H.Q. in the Watergate Complex in Washington D.C., this was a seminal moment not only in the politics of the USA, but also in Anglophonic word construction.
A sitting President may have resigned; a Pulitzer Prize may have been awarded to the investigating journalists; but the Anglosphere was gifted one of its most famous and enduring suffixes. Let’s hear it for the ‘-gate’! Four little letters which, when attached to a trigger word, elevate any given set of circumstances to the status of scandal.
Watergate, the progenitor, has been followed by literally thousands of derivations. There’s been Camillagate (Prince Charles cheating on Diana); Envelopegate (Warren Beatty screwing up an Oscar announcement); Deflategate (an American Footballer letting air out of footballs); Billygate; Nannygate; Celebgate; Plebgate; Riogate. And on, and on, and on, and Ariston (another phrase entering the language from the following advertising slogan).
See also my blog Tin Deep. Only recently, my own football team, Leeds United, was caught secretly checking out its next opponents, and thus ‘Spygate’ was born.
Whilst the ‘-gate’ game is primarily played by the newspapers and social media, they don’t have a monopoly. Next time you come across some juicy gossip, have some fun making it into a ‘-gate’. My personal hope is that, one day, a certain actress and a certain billionaire will be discovered holding hands while walking through an archway. In which case we’ll have GatesGatesgategate.
Rory Mulvihill, LOS Consultant