Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Gategate

Every time there is a scandal some wag asks why we use "-gate" as a suffix for scandals. These people know why. They know all about the earlier scandal and/or hotel. They just want to be clever and point out that it's a nonsensical thing that has nothing to do with actual gates.

Well: why do we still say "pants" when people haven't worn pantaloons for centuries? Why do we use "stuff" when talking about things that aren't fabric? Why do we use any word? Because there is a communal understanding about what this particular set of lines or audio pattern "means" that goes beyond its literal or even etymological origins in as little as a few decades of its being coined. Almost as though language is a continually evolving shared delusion, or something.

In any case, if you're going to have a suffix that quickly and easily illustrates a moment when something is metaphorically swung open to reveal hidden truths to the public, you could do worse than "gate". It evokes floodgates, sluice gates, prison gates. Really, we should be grateful that somebody's choice of hotel gave us such a meaningful appellation.