But, in more recent developments, others haven’t ventured a name. “There’s a new thing, and it might be the thing,” Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he aired almost 11 minutes of very detailed explanation of the events that preceded Nancy Pelosi’s announcement. What he did not include was a shorthand for those events.
So no one dares to call this moment … Ukrainegate? Whistlegate? The possibilities lack the euphony, sparkle and accuracy of their predecessors.
We also might just be sick of the suffix.
The suffix “gate,” of course, came from the scandal that the public learned of thanks to the burglary of the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate building in 1972. The name of the hotel came to stand in for the scandal itself. The “gate” was shorn from the rest of the word and came to be used as a suffix that simply meant “scandal.” Writers, most notably William Safire, drove this usage into the ground, through the ground and out the other side of the earth.
Now, even the linguists are tired of it. Brian D. Joseph, a professor of linguistics at the Ohio State University who has tracked the “gate” suffix across different languages including Greek, German and Serbo-Croatian, compared it to a pair of once-fashionable ripped jeans.
“There are so many holes you can put in a pair of jeans before they become useless,” Mr. Joseph said. “There’s an aspect like that to language use.”
That the articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump do not exist at this time makes it all the more difficult to figure out what word should be coupled with “gate.”
“If the only issue were Ukraine, it might be Ukrainegate,” Mr. Joseph said. “It’s not very creative. But if there’s Ukraine and a whole bunch of other things, it might be that there’s no single label of ‘gate’ that would work for that.”
Partisanship, also, might require that there be two publicly intelligible names. Even in the news media, it is likely that a shorthand’s use may be split among cable network lines.
Not to mention, Mr. Trump, often the labeler-in-chief, may come up with his own name for the pileup that threatens his administration.
David Placek, the founder and president of Lexicon branding, whose company named the Swiffer, the Blackberry, Verizon Fios, the Subaru Outback and Embassy Suites, agreed that the scandal would be difficult to label, given that any appellation would have to be short, sharp and clear in its meaning.
If he were creating a name for a brand, he said, he would create a matrix of relevant terms — but with words like Ukraine, corruption and Zelensky (Volodymyr Zelensky is the president of Ukraine), there was not a wealth of material with which to work.
“I think we’ll see some things with whistle,” Mr. Placek said, referring to the whistle-blower whose complaint set off the current fervor. “It’s a tangible object, easy to say, very transparent.”
Still, even Mr. Placek, a professional namer, had a hard time moving on from “gate.” Among the terms he considered aloud before dismissing them were: Whistlegate, Trumpgate, Ukrainegate. He also said that the name might not emerge until the inquiry was concluded.
Are we stuck with “gate,” then?
Probably not. As Whitney Houston reminds us, the children are our future, and the children do not need something as old-fashioned as words in order to express themselves. The pop star Lizzo led the way, on Tuesday, after Ms. Pelosi announced that an impeachment inquiry would go forward. She went with an emoji portmanteau, and named it “IM🍑MENT.”