I do hope that current events in the Vatican are not a sign of linguistic developments to come. I mean, Wikileaks was one thing – it took the idea of a Wiki, and the idea of Leaks, stuck them together, and came up with a title and a concept which, basically, worked.
But that doesn’t mean that -Leaks has now become an acceptable suffix which can be ramrodded onto any story about the unauthorised release of sensitive information. And yet, Vatileaks is now all over the news.
Is this the start of a new Leak inspired linguistic habit, a way of encapsulating a particular kind of scandal with a new language shorthand. I do hope not. As I wrote earlier this year, my loathing of the -Gate suffix was not helped by the Horsegate fiasco, and recent events in Downing Street, involving the Chief Whip and his bicycle, saw the arrival of Gategate, surely the nadir for -Gate and the point when, one hopes, it will finally die its natural death.
If we are ever to be freed from Gate, please do not let Leaks come into its place. We don’t want a language scandal called Leaksgate, now do we?
It must be obvious by now just how much I admire the English language and its regular diet of new words. But even I have my limits.
So what has promoted my ire? It’s very simple. It’s Horsegate. It’s the ‘scandal’ over the retired police horse cared for by Rebekah Brooks and subsequently ridden by David Cameron. The whole equine fiasco has been dubbed ‘horsegate’ by the media and the social media world.
And I hate it! Not the story, which is of course fascinating, amusing and worrying in almost equal measures. No, I hate the way that every vaguely salacious or scandalous story which hits the news and lasts for longer than about 20 minutes automatically receives a ‘-gate’ at the end of it as a word by which it will be referred to for evermore.
It’s lazy. It’s cliched. But above all, it offends my linguistic sensibilities. It is derived, of course, from the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. This has led to the belief that you can borrow the gate from the building where it took place and simply append it to anything. And it’s plain wrong. There is nothing inherent in the word ‘gate’ that means anything to do with scandal. Imagine if the Nixon scandal had centred around the Waterfish building, we’d all be discussing the horsefish story now.
Now I know what you’re thinking. I have continually espoused a theory of language growing and evolving, of words taking on new meanings, and if gate has grown to be imbued with scandal-related meaning when used as a suffix, surely I should applaud that, that is what language does. But on this occasion, I am going to stick to my guns. I think it is ugly and unnecessary. A glance down Wikipedia’s list of ‘gate’ usages convinces me I am right, so ludicrous are many of the entries. I think Fajitagate and Toiletgate are possibly the pick of an appalling bunch.
I love the ever-changing nature of English. But this constant neologism is almost scandalous. It’s just that you’ll never hear me refer to it as languagegate.