I see a lot of times when something is a politically-oriented scandal that the suffix ‑gate is added to the end of the word the scandal revolves around.

Examples include:

I believe that it originated during the Watergate scandal, but I don't know why the suffix ‑gate was perpetuated to other scandals. Is there a name for this literary mechanism of using part of previously popularized term to elicit a comparison or similar connotation?

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    Voting to close as "General reference" on the grounds that googling gate suffix scandal reveals the original to be Watergate in the first result, without even needing to follow the link. – FumbleFingers Aug 4 '11 at 13:45
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    @FumbleFingers: that part is, indeed, general reference, but the part about the mechanism is not. – Marthaª Aug 4 '11 at 13:49
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    I can think of another famous example in biology (well, it is famous if you are a biologist, I guess): Edwin Southern, invented a technique for the detection of DNA sequences, that was eponymously named Southern blot. When similar techniques for the detection of RNA and proteins were described by other scientists, they were called Northern blot and Western blot. – nico Aug 4 '11 at 14:21
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    Maybe this should be linked to the "-athon" thread as well: english.stackexchange.com/questions/36702 – GEdgar Aug 4 '11 at 14:32
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    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner: Okay, here it is. The "abstract" shown by Google says List of scandals with "-gate" suffix - Wikipedia...This is a list of actual or alleged scandals or controversies named with a "- gate" suffix, by analogy with the Watergate scandal – FumbleFingers Aug 4 '11 at 16:09

This is a great example of a back-formation: a word is treated as if it were composed of prefixes or suffixes, then taken apart (incorrectly) and remixed to form new words. Another famous example is cheeseburger. The ‑burger suffix is incorrectly taken from hamburger, which is a dish from Hamburg, not a burger made from ham.

Watergate was a big enough scandal, and sounds enough like it’s composed of Water‑ and ‑gate, that the suffix has been back-formed into plenty of other scandal names.

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    And watergate was, in fact, composed of water and gate. The office complex took its name from the watergate which controlled water inflow into the tidal basin of D.C. – mgkrebbs Aug 4 '11 at 19:54

Watergate was the name of the office in Washington where the scandal broke out. Hence the original 'gate' form - Watergate. Thereafter, any sort of scandal is given the 'gate' suffix as a sort of derivation of Watergate. This is true even for media coverage of smaller scale controversial events. In cricket, a couple of years ago, one cricketer slapped another cricketer who was heckling him. The incident was publicised as Slapgate. It's that easily used.

This sort of referencing also finds its way into the film industry - As a tribute to Hollywood, we have Nollywood in Nigeria, Bollywood, Kollywood and Tollywood (2 of them!) in India, Lollywood in Pakistan.

This sort of derivation is attractive when the original word has multiple syllables and a recognisable morpheme (like wood, gate). One can imagine that Woodstock could have given rise to a whole group of festivals with 'stock' as the keyword.

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  • Also Tamalewood in New Mexico. – cha0sys Aug 4 '11 at 15:49

As for the process, refer to this: Pormanteau. It's another method of neologisms.

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  • I didn't know about this term, but I don't think it's actually the same phenomenon. Here you're attaching suffixes, not melting two words together. – Alenanno Aug 4 '11 at 14:08
  • You're correct that we are not "melting two words together", but what you're thinking of is probably a phonological assimilation. This is simply taking morphological units and combining them to create new words. – Mark T Aug 4 '11 at 14:18

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