The three Troopergates had endless problems with their mail being misdelivered. Can’t they address mine as “Sarah Palin’s Troopergate?” the third one wanted to know. It would solve everything.
Or just call me “Number One Troopergate,” suggested the one that had to do with Bill Clinton’s Arkansas troopers — but everyone saw what he was trying to pull there.
At some point, someone pointed out that each successive Troopergate scandal had been completely different in scope and topic, and questioned out loud whether it would be possible for any of them to be granted a different name entirely. Something without “gate” on the end. Trooper-jam. Trooper-fracas. Trooper-duper.
But it was not possible.
It will never be possible.
Until the ever-loving end of time, we, the people, will be destined to pluck random nouns from the news, stick “-gate” on the end, wait for it to catch on and then smugly glance around like first-graders who have just told a doody joke. Doodygate! (No.)
It was cute, borderline clever, when this practice started in 1972. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first recorded example of a -gating was in the August edition of Harvard’s National Lampoon, just two months after the break-in at the Watergate office building. “Volgagate” was the inaugural phrase, in reference to the Russian river.
It had almost certainly stopped being cute, borderline clever, by 1991, when the renowned language columnist William Safire wrote of the galloping rush to gate-ify a kerfuffle in the House of Representatives involving bad checks. Safire put forth “Housegate.” He prided himself in being a gate whiz kid, a gate prodigy, a master-gater when it came to coining this sort of thing.
“I’m often first out of the box,” he wrote in his column. “After Koreagate, which never got off the ground, there were Lancegate and Billygate.”
It became one of those shorthands, relied upon over and over again because it was so accessible to such a large portion of the population. Cliches have a purpose — they help big groups of diverse people get on the same page.
What shall we call independent politicians? Mavericks.
What shall we call it when they’re caught with their pants down? Maverickgate.