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Rem Rieder is a media columnist for USA TODAY. / USA TODAY

It was as inevitable as night following day.

The scandal that has engulfed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie after his aides exacted revenge on the mayor of Fort Lee by causing a hideous traffic snarl on the George Washington Bridge rapidly became known as "Bridgegate."

Hardly a surprise. Ever since a certain third-rate burglary in Washington, D.C., nearly 42 years ago, that has been the fate of every scandal, near scandal, faux scandal, flap, brouhaha, kerfuffle, hubbub and conturbation that comes along.

It gets the gate. Or, rather, the -gate.

And it's got to stop. Now.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big First Amendment guy. But even freedom of speech has its limits. You know how it's not OK to yell "fire" in a crowded theater (especially when it's not on fire)?

This "gate" business is careening perilously close to that territory.

It's not cute. It's not cool. It's not clever.

I will give it knee-jerk. And lazy. And oh, so predictable. And really, really annoying.

But there is a more serious reason to show gate to the gate. By awarding the suffix to everything from serious government misconduct to the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII (surely you remember Nipplegate), you create a false equivalency that ends up trivializing everything.

That certainly was the take of Sam Dash, who served as chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee all those years ago. "When people hear this proliferation of 'gates,' they feel the press is telling them this is the same as Watergate, and whatever Watergate has stood for has lost its meaning," Dash told Suzan Revah of American Journalism Review.

This was back in 1997. Dash, who died in 2004, would no doubt be horrified to find out this gate obsession shows no sign of abating all these years later.

The actual Watergate saga began back in 1972 when burglars with ties to then-president Richard Nixon's re-election committee and the White House were caught trying to break into Democratic National Committee headquarters. Ultimately, "Watergate" became a catchall for a wide array of serous misconduct - wiretapping, political espionage, dirty tricks, and on and on - that ultimately forced Nixon to resign in disgrace.

But the gate in Watergate wasn't a suffix to suggest that something amiss was afoot. Watergate was simply the name of the building the inept burglars were breaking into. In a brilliant sketch on the BBC in 2010, the British comedy duo Mitchell and Webb pointed out that to fit the paradigm, the literal mother of all gates should properly be called Watergategate.

Nobody did more to give momentum to the gate meme than William Safire, The New York Times op-ed columnist and language maven who, in another life, had been a speechwriter for Nixon. Safire loved adding gate to everything.

According to historians, the first post Watergate (post-Watergategate?) gate was created in jest. In 1973, the humor magazine National Lampoon (this was in a harsh, primitive time when not only was there no Twitter, there was no Onion) dubbed a fictional Russian scandal Volgagate. And we were off and running.

There's a special place in the Gate Hall of Fame for Troopergate. There have been three of them, revolving variously around Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and Sarah Palin (now there's a trifecta).

Probably the most adorable gate is Biscuitgate, a contretemps that exploded when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wouldn't disclose what his favorite cookie was.

And a serious contender for the silliest of all gates was Selfiegate, when President Obama took a selfie posed with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Nelson Mandela's funeral service, supposedly much to the consternation of First Lady Michelle Obama.

I'm under no illusion that closing this particular gate will be easy. After all, I called for the banishment of the dreaded suffix in American Journalism Review back in 2011.

So it may be that the gate, like rock 'n' roll is here to stay.

But let's hope not.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Rieder: Stop adding 'gate' to every flap

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