Saturday, March 9, 2013


The dozen-or-so regular readers of my blog will know that I generally steer clear of politics. (When you only have a dozen-or-so readers, you can't afford to alienate half of them.) However, if you stumbled across this post by accident and are expecting to read my opinion of what everyone else on the Internet is talking about this month—well, I'm sorry to disappoint you.

This is not a political rant.

It's a linguistic rant.

In case you're from another planet, "the sequester" is a package of across-the-board spending cuts set by Congress to automatically go into effect this year should they not agree on a budget. I don't know why they chose the word "sequester." According to Merriam-Webster, the most widely accepted definition of that word is "to set apart," as in "sequester a jury." If you ask me, they could have found a much better name for their budgetary booby trap—say, for instance, "the budgetary booby trap."

However, that is not what has me "on my soapbox," as my Aunt Vonna used to say.

This week a winter storm dropped up to two feet of snow on parts of the Midwest and East Coast. Reporters have dubbed the storm "Snowquester."


Apparently it is now perfectly acceptable to take any two random events that have nothing whatsoever to do with each other and combine them to make a new word that means absolutely nothing. Also in the news this week: the death of Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez. Why not call the storm "Snowgo Chavez?"

I blame Watergate.

In case you're from that same planet that hasn't heard about the sequester, "Watergate" was a political scandal that took place during the Nixon administration. It was called "Watergate" because "Watergate" is the name of the building where it happened. This makes sense.

However, every single scandal that has happened since Watergate has been referred to by the press as some sort of "gate"—e.g., Irangate, Monicagate, Troopergate, etceteragate—as if the word "gate" were a synonym for "scandal." This is ridiculous.

If the Watergate scandal had taken place at some other location—say the Howard Johnson Inn—would reporters have referred to the Anthony Weiner scandal as "Weinerjohnson?"

Now before all of you descriptive linguisticians (you know who you are) start lecturing me, let me assure you that I know perfectly well that language is a living thing and, as such, must constantly evolve.

But why must it always get dumber?

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