A few days ago, a new word entered our vocabulary: Porngate, a word that media immediately and near unanimously adopted to describe, the reports of BJP MLAs watching pornography while in the assembly. This morning, another new word enters our vocabulary: Coalgate, a word that media, within the next few hours, near unanimously adopt to describe, the CAG’s draft report that the government has lost Rs. 10.7 lakh crore by not auctioning coal.
Why does a word that is ‘suffixed’ by the word ‘gate’ mean scandal? Does ‘gate’ itself mean ‘scandal’? Did it ever?
“The suffix -gate derives from the Watergate scandal of the United States in the early 1970s, which resulted in the resignation of US President Richard Nixon. The scandal was named after the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C,” says a Wikipedia entry referring to the very first time the word ‘gate’ was used in the context of a scandal. It wasn’t a suffix here, though. ‘Watergate’ was the name of the complex in which the Democratic National Committee was headquartered, and Nixon’s henchmen broke in to the office to install bugging equipment. Wikipedia has an interesting list of scandals with the suffix– 'gate'.
And, in a short while, for reasons unknown, every succeeding scandal had the second half of Watergate, appended at the end, so that by association with the memory of WaterGATE as a scandal, any word with GATE as a suffix had instant recall as a scandal of similar proportions – even when it might not have been half as impactful or corrupt or unethical.
William Safire, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, was a speechwriter in the Nixon administration. Post Watergate, he assiduously appended ‘gate’ to scandals small and large in columns he wrote – in an attempt to make all subsequent scandals as large as Watergate, and, in so doing, minimise the damage to Nixon.
What Indian media is doing in India is ample proof that Safire succeeded. In India, we’ve had large and small scandals being appended by ‘gate’ – in effect making them all seem large.
Today, ‘porngate’, which is at best a scandal that highlights the stupidity of a couple of MLAs, could get reduced to the same size as ‘Coalgate’, a scandal of gigantic proportions…
America has fallen for Safire’s ruse – and, tragically, so have we.
Updated Date: Mar 22, 2012 11:49:09 IST