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Could -boat be the new -gate?

Word in the news: Romney-boated

On New Year’s Day this year, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, expressing frustration at negative ads being run by pro-Romney groups, said “I feel Romney-boated”, coining a phrase and – just maybe – launching a new combining form. Gingrich’s neologism uses the second element in swift-boating, a term which dates back to the 2004 US presidential election between John Kerry and the incumbent George Bush, when the military record of the Democratic challenger was harshly criticized in political ads paid for by a pro-Bush organization calling itself “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth”, in reference to the type of boat on which Kerry served during Vietnam. Soon, swift-boating had become political shorthand for attacking an opposing candidate by means of negative advertisements funded by allegedly independent groups. With Romney-boating, Gingrich raises the prospect that -boating could go on to live an independent life as a combining form, creating new phrases on the model X-boating, where X is the politician who is seen as the intended beneficiary of the officially unaffiliated groups funding such advertisements (known in the jargon of US politics as PACs, an acronym for political action committee). For instance, in the general election, pro-Democratic PACs might be accused of Obama-boating.

If this were to happen, it would be reminiscent of -gate, the now-ubiquitous second element in words referring to political scandals. -gate, of course, has its origins in the final syllable of the name of the Watergate Hotel, which became metonymically synonymous with the scandal which spelled the end of the Nixon presidency in 1972. By the following year, -gate had already become a separable element, used to denote scandals as divergent as “Volgagate” and Wine-gate”, and since then it has been appended to words indicating a defining feature of any number of scandals, from Clinton’s Monica-gate in the 1990s to Berlusconi’s Bunga-bunga-gate and News Corp’s hackergate in the year just ended. The very malleability of -gate and its infinite applicability in a world full of political scandal have ensured its success. -boat, in contrast, may have a tough row to hoe unless it can be broadened to describe a more extensive range of perceived political malfeasance, and perhaps to modify more potential words than simply the names of political opponents. We’ll be watching in the coming months to see if it proves to have staying power.

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