Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shut the gate

I think of subs as frustrated writers who live in a state of permanent near-apoplexy at the ineptitude of "real" writers but who are forced to eat the occasional bit of humble pie when they fall off their high horse by making a mistake themselves. That stereotype occasionally gets knocked off its feet when something graceless and awful appears and you just know it's the sub who put it there.

Take this monstrosity from The Guardian's home page today (27 April – I'll put the link in although it will probably be gone by the time anyone clicks it): "Prime Minister sparks fury after shouting Michael Winner advertising slogan to Shadow Chief Secretary Angela Eagle in scandal already being dubbed 'Winnergate'."

The phrase "a scandal already being dubbed Somethinggate" is a euphemism for "a storm in a teacup that I have just decided to call Somethinggate because I'm so utterly shit at my job that this is genuinely the best I can come up with". I'm presuming this was written by the sub, since the word doesn't appear in the article itself, although possibly there's a sub at Guardian Towers glowering at his section editor and thinking, "Thanks for insisting on Winnergate. Now everyone's going to think I'm so utterly shit at my job that this is genuinely the best I can come up with."

This supposition is supported by the fact that, when The Guardian published its piece, only it and Twitter had used the term "Winnergate". The New Statesman chipped in a couple of hours later, describing the term as "near-universal". If your universe consists of The Guardian and Twitter, then I recommend you do some wider reading.

Watergate was 40 years ago and the "-gate" suffix lost all credibility with the coining of "Billygate" for a long-forgotten infraction by President Carter's brother in around 1978. If you're still using it, you're probably the kind of journalist who thinks it's original to describe a children's Easter egg hunt as "egg-citing".

Moral: attaching the suffix "-gate" to any minor controversy is a sign that the writer has admitted defeat


  1. It's one of the feebler kinds of journalistic knee-jerk. They may as well have written "Cameron lacks tact. In other news: I lack imagination."

    -gate should only be used tongue-in-cheek. I saw someone on Twitter describe the Andrew Marr superinjunction business as Marrgate.

  2. Marrgate: I love it. Even the corpse of a long-dead cliché twitches occasionally. Bill Clinton's travails were briefly described as "fornigate", but that never caught on.