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I noticed that for corrruption/scandals the usage of '-gate' suffix is pretty common, as we have recently seen with 'datagate' and before with 'watergate'

Can anyone explain what the relation between '-gate' and scandals is and why this relation arose? Also, is this '-gate' used with the same sense in British English, too?

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@RegD., as for your knowledge, in case you didn't read that page, there is also a scandal interestingly called 'biscuitgate'. –  Elberich Schneider Jan 5 at 14:07
When iPhone 4 was launched it had a problem that makes the phone lose signal. It was known as AntennaGate. –  Vitor Canova Jan 5 at 19:06

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It comes from the Watergate scandal.

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I heard that -gate itself was the creation of a conservative commentator, who thought that having the media talk about such things as Housegate, Cakegate and Gategate (all of which I have seen in earnest) would reduce the impact of Watergate itself. Can't find a source at present (which is why this is a comment), but whether true or not, the suffix has certainly taken on a life of its own. –  TimLymington Jan 5 at 18:31

All these formations are modeled after the Watergate scandal which you mentioned. That scandal, in turn, took its name from the very innocently named Watergate Complex, a group of buildings in Washington DC which happened to house the office which housed the documents that were stolen as part of the Watergate Burglaries, and thus ended up giving its name (or at least half of it) to various political scandals for nearly half a century since.

The suffix itself doesn't have anything to do with scandal, intrinsically. It's the association with the famous Watergate scandal that gave it its new meaning.

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What I find interesting today, is that young people generally don't know this connection, having no reference to Watergate. Do you all think this use of "-gate" will soon disappear because of this, the lack of appreciation of Watergate? Or will the use of "-gate" end up educating the next generation about Watergate? –  Mike M Jan 5 at 18:56
I like the way phrases, images and other symbols get a life of their own, distinct from their origins. A rotary phone's circular dial-pad lives on as a symbol for telephones, while a floppy disk symbolizes Save, even for kids who have never actually used any of those. The -Gate will live on. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jan 5 at 19:29
@MikeM, etymology doesn’t play much of a role in the use of words and, especially, suffixes. For example, very few English speakers today know that the suffix -ly, used to make adjectives and adverbs, is originally a noun that means ‘corpse’ (or more generally, ‘shape, form’)—cognate with ‘like’ and the word lych ‘corpse’ that, quite apropos, is mainly used in the term lychgate ‘roofed gateway into a churchyard’. The fact that few people know of this etymology and connection has of course never stopped anyone from using it all over the place. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 5 at 19:57
@Janus Bahs Jacquet - indeed, I did not know that! :) –  Mike M Jan 5 at 23:08

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