Friday, March 04, 2005

Stopping the miss use of the Suffix -Gate

Is it just me, or are we done with the use of the word -gate as a suffix?

Watergate is a hotel and apartment complex in DC. The embroglio involved Nixon and other corrupt politicians in 1972. This was a long time ago. There is no need to slap the term -gate at the end of some word to indicate the emergence of some kind of scandal.

Perhaps we should tax every person who coins or uses the term instead of calling a scandal just what it is. Put the money toward paying down the national debt that W. Rove and Co have gotten us into.

There are many offenses, including this one in San Francisco.

Please, let's just stop it.


Adam said...

It's just another way to dumb down our society. It's not even a real suffix.

Luke Bagnall said...

Such a captious attitude as you've expressed here is often a mark of a mediocre grasp of grammatical concepts and language philosophy - an outdated propensity to employ a prescriptive rather than a descriptive grammar. People learn what they think are the 'rules' of grammar, largely propagated by misinformed primary school teachers, and apply them unquestioningly, not knowing that such rules are frequently unfounded. And so they go on through life arrogantly insisting that, for example, the legitimately anglicised plural 'octopuses' become 'octopi'; decrying the starting of sentences with 'And' as incorrect; and denouncing the ending of sentences with prepositions, all the while claiming to be grammar 'nuts' or 'Nazis', but never taking the time to actually question their sanctified 'rules'. 'Octopus' has Greek, not Latin roots, and as such, if we insist on being pedantic, should technically be realised in its plural form as 'octopodes'. The ridiculously popular notion that sentences should not end with prepositions, as Bryson points out in his book Mothertongue (which I highly recommend as a humbling device for the self-proclaimed 'grammar Nazis' mentioned above), seems to be founded merely on the fact that that word contains the prefix 'pre' in it. And as for starting sentences with 'And', what possible justification could there be for the imposition of such a rule, other than the 'self realising' argument: "It's bad grammar".

Language is a fluid entity, and this fluidity is to be celebrated, not castigated. It's what has led English, and indeed, language on the whole to flourish.

'-gate' is a perfectly legitimate, etymologically fascinating suffix. There are many ways a part of speech can consecrate itself into language, not just by merit of its having belonged to some dead, ancient predecessor to contemporary language. If such attempts to censor language as yours were always successful, we would be deprived of some of our richest and most useful expressions. Fortunately, they rarely succeed (you only have one supporting comment), and the people who make them tend to become fools of history when the grammatical concepts they denounce take hold and become fundamental parts of common vernacular.

Pontification on grammar should be reserved for practices that obfuscate meaning, not organic occurences such as the increasing usage of the suffix '-gate', which enrich language and expression (although, even grammatical practices which muddy the waters of meaning have become standardised in the past). Therefore, I suggest you turn to more pressing grammatical concerns which cause ambiguity, such as the misspelling of the word 'misuse' as 'miss use', or the incorrect capitalisation of the word 'suffix', in your title. These errors are more threatening than the suffix '-gate' ever could be.