Wednesday, October 28, 2015

It's a scandal

My first experience with a shopping mall came in the 1950s at the Westgate Shopping Center in Toledo. It still exists, at least as recently as a couple of years ago, but today it seems little more than a strip mall. Back in my youth, however, going to that mall with my family was a very big deal. The first McDonald's I ever saw was located nearby, which doubled the excitement of a trip to Westgate.

Back then the malls in many cities seemed to have a "gate" in their names -- Westgate, Northgate, etc., depending upon which end of town they were located. That practice ended in the early 1970s with Watergate, the biggest political scandal in American history. The scandal was named after the hotel where the breakin occurred that started the whole thing. A second Watergate scandal nearly occurred in the late 1970s when I spent a night at the hotel when I was in Washington for some briefings at the state department. I ordered a pheasant dinner in the Watergate's fanciest restaurant. In my very first bite of rice I felt something hard and spit it back out onto my plate. It was broken glass. I found other pieces of broken glass in the rice. Fortunately I didn't swallow any. Some people get pheasant under glass. I got glass under pheasant. At least it resulted in a free meal, plus a good story.

The Watergate Hotel, so called because it is located along the Potomac River, still exists. The scandal may have even been good for business. Not so for shopping malls, however. They don't want their names to sound like another scandal, for nowadays virtually every scandal, large or small, has a "gate" at the end. The New England Patriots have their Deflategate, Hillary Clinton has her Emailgate and Chris Christie had his Bridgegate. We have also heard Filegate, Nannygate, Pardongate, Troopergate, Weinergate, Bountygate, Rathergate and dozens of others. The gate suffix seems to be as popular in other countries as it is in the U.S. Britain had its Camillagate, Australia had its Choppergate, Finland had its Iraqgate and Sweden had its own Nannygate, and there are many others.

Centuries ago some English prisons had the gate suffix, namely Newgate and Ludgate. Before that walled cities had gates, and those gates had names. Way back then, a "gate" in a name meant an actual gate. Imagine that.

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