Charts & Graphs

Defining the Problem

Shorthand for scandals.


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.

____’s Katrina

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?’ ”