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?

  • @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 '14 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 '14 at 19:06
  • Hey Vitor - there are literally 1000s of examples. Climategate was I guess the actually biggest "real scandal" where the -gate term was used. – Fattie Oct 22 '14 at 7:50

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. – Tim Lymington Jan 5 '14 at 18:31
  • Tim, that sounds pretty silly i'd say - i doubt that's the case. Just an urban legend. (Indeed, note the info from the OED courtesy Andrew.) – Fattie Oct 22 '14 at 7:47
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    @TimLymington Possibly from Etymology, usage, and history of -gate from the Wikipedia article "List of scandals with "-gate" suffix". – Andrew Grimm Oct 22 '14 at 9:00

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 '14 at 18:56
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    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 '14 at 19:29
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    @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 '14 at 19:57
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  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet - indeed, I did not know that! :) – Mike M Jan 5 '14 at 23:08

As other answers have noted, the first scandal ending in "gate" was the Watergate scandal.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that other scandals having a "gate" tacked on happened reasonably quickly

Only a year after Watergate, the scandal had become so well known that -gate became detached and was used to create names for other scandals. The OED’s first recorded example is from August 1972 in National Lampoon:

‘There have been persistent rumors in Russia of a vast scandal.‥ Implicated in “the Volgagate” are a group of liberal officials.’

A few months later the –gate craze had shown no signs of abating, a fact signalled by the weary use of ‘inevitably’ in the following quotation:

‘Inevitably, the brouhaha of Bordeaux became known as Wine-gate.’

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