Etymology: From the 1972 break-in at the Watergate Office Building that sank Richard Nixon’s presidency. Uses: In August 1973 the satirical magazine National Lampoon reported that Soviet officials had been “caught removing bugs from telephones” and “telling the truth to foreign newsmen” in a fictional scandal dubbed Volgagate. The naming convention has since been used for myriad real incidents, among them Tunagate (1985; rancid canned fish sold in Canada), Nipplegate (2004; Super Bowl halftime show “wardrobe malfunction”), and Gategate (2012; British MP Andrew Mitchell’s verbal abuse of a police officer who had asked him to exit 10 Downing Street through the pedestrian gate instead of the main one).
Etymology: From the 2012 attack on two U.S. State Department facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in several deaths and more than a year of investigations. Uses: With few exceptions, -ghazi is used as a secondary variant for scandals with well-established -gate names, as in Ballghazi (2013; Tom Brady’s alleged deflation of footballs used in the AFC championship game) and Bridgeghazi (2013; the rush-hour closure of three lanes of the George Washington Bridge orchestrated by New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s administration to punish a political rival). “From now on,” historian Patrick Iber tweeted in March 2015, “the suffix -gate is reserved for meaningful scandals, whereas -ghazi designates a pseudoscandal.”
Etymology: From Tangentopoli, literally “Bribesville” or “Kickback City,” an Italian nickname for Milan referring to the widespread political corruption uncovered in the city in the 1990s. Uses: Among the scandals to adopt the suffix are two soccer-match-fixing incidents, Calciopoli (2006; from calcio, “soccer”) and Scommessopoli (2011; from scommessa, “wager”). In the wake of the former, the president of the Italian Football Federation appointed Francesco Saverio Borrelli, a retired judge who more than a decade earlier had led the Tangentopoli investigations, to take charge of inquests into corruption within the league.
Etymology: From George W. Bush’s mishandling of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The phrase became shorthand for presidential bungling of a crisis. Uses: Pundits applied the term Obama’s Katrina to dozens of incidents during the Obama administration, including a 2009 swine flu outbreak and the 2012 Benghazi attacks. Among events dubbed Trump’s Katrina is the administration’s botched response to damage caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. “In the years ahead,” security analyst Juliette Kayyem wrote, the question “will be ‘is this the president’s Puerto Rico?’ ”