Foul Meat-gate

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In "Dead and alive: metaphors for (dis)obeying the law " (7/27/14), we discussed the food scandal that has rocked China in recent days.  Abe Sauer had earlier made this post to the brandchannel:  "China's Latest Meat Scandal Could Deal a Death Blow to Brands Like KFC " (7/23/14).  In it, Abe remarked, "Taking a note from America's Watergate-based nomenclature, the scandal is being called 'Foul Meat-gate' ('臭肉门')."  Ben Zimmer, who called Abe's post to my attention, asked, "Is '-gate' really working as a morpheme here?"

The answer is a resounding "yes".

From this Wikipedia article, we know that "-gate" (–> -mén 门 ["gate; door"]) has indeed been taken up into Chinese.  See also this Baidu article.

However, whereas the "-gate" suffix of English is generally restricted to events having major political implications, the corresponding Chinese "-mén 门" suffix has been expanded to include all sorts of sensational events in which the public takes an intense interest.

Before I delve more deeply into examples of the "-mén 门" suffix in action, I need to dispose of a thorny matter concerning the variants of the character used to write it.  The traditional form is 門; if you use your imagination I suppose that you can see the leaves of what looks like a saloon door.

Earlier forms of the character are given on this page (the oldest ones are at the bottom).

The official simplified character for mén ("gate; door") is this one:  门.  Unfortunately, in the brandchannel article, and increasingly elsewhere, this mysterious form is the one that you will see:  门.  This is actually quite troublesome, because sometimes when I want to type 门, 门 will pop up indiscriminately, and vice versa.  This morning when I was working on this post, the 门 <=> 门 problem became quite maddening, especially because I was having a hard time documenting just where 门 came from and whether it had any legitimacy in the overall Chinese writing system.

Finally, Tom Bishop and Stephan Stiller came to my rescue by informing me that 门 is actually an unofficial Japanese simplified character.  You can see it half the way down on the right side of this page.  Clicking on the first word of the caption beneath the large form of this character, I learned that this type of colloquial simplified kanji are called ryakuji 略字 ("abbreviated characters") or hissha ryakuji 筆写略字 ("handwritten abbreviated characters").  Unfortunately, this unofficial 门 shares the same Unicode code point as the official Chinese simplified form 门. Software may display one or the other depending on one's font and language configurations.  No wonder my poor computer was so confused this morning and why I was so frustrated.

Well, enough of 門, 门, and 门 (here I really am tempting the fates), let's look at an instance of Chinese -mén 门 ("-gate" [i.e., "scandal; controversy"]) in actual usage.

A good example would be "Pōmò-mén 泼墨门" ("Splash Ink-Gate" — not Post Modernism-Gate!), which became notorious when a group of men dressed in black splashed ink on a large poster of the actress, Zhang Ziyi (of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" fame), that was displayed near her home (this was part of an even bigger scandal which is too complicated to go into here).

An academic controversy that is currently raging in China is the Yenching [Academy]-Gate.  An attempt has been made to establish a prestigious college called Yenching Academy within Peking University, but it has met with fierce resistance on the part of those who view it as elitist and too tied to missionary traditions and Western influences in general.  All of this is especially galling to the opponents of the new Yenching Academy because of the close association of Peking University with the old Yenching University, leaving a bitter taste in their mouth.

In Chinese, this is called the Yànjīng-mén 燕京门 ("Yenching-Gate" — sorry, the third character is wrong, but I can't do anything about it at this point).  Now, this comes out as extremely clever and cute, as well as extraordinarily ironic, since Chinese universities place a tremendous amount of symbolic weight on their actual gates (not the "-gates" that are controversial in nature).

By now, there are hundreds of examples of the suffix "-men 门" in Chinese.  Mind you, these are just the ones that are better known.  There's no point in transcribing and translating all of these names.  It should be obvious even to those who don't know Chinese that they all end in

强吻门、末日门、长春砍手门楼道门、学生虐猪门、中山公园门、无底门、苏巍自杀门、方小听裸聊门、众神殿小熊门、广西烟草局长日记门、四川美院分手门、暨南大学分手门、武汉教室门、故宫解雇门、故宫会所门漳州云霄艳照门、陈庆聪爽约门、浴室征婚门挤奶门、提拔门、京东艳照门复旦黄山门代表门卡尺门何洁门订金门亲嘴门沉船门李刚门红外门风水门主播门、眼药门、捉奸门、(冒险岛)游离门,落水门、超标门、弃权门三亚招考门快男包养门、翻脸门、天线门早熟门友妈门霸王致癌门、缝肛门、雏妓门打错门排骨门学历门橡胶门印尼艳影门交院门厚街技校门、墙角门、天台门、饭局门、的士门、厕所男婴门、圈钱门粗口门合体门、工地门、舔奶门、铜须门、艳照门、诛仙门、斗富门、噬魂门、转会门、脱衣门、 堕胎门、骚扰门、神兽骗子门、搜索门、破解门、踩猫门、富士康员工自杀门 、尘肺门、气候门、农夫山泉砒霜门、湖南幼师摸鸟门、海运门、上海空姐门、劈腿门、湖南秋千门、章子怡沙滩门、顺义五中脱裤门、慈溪职高摸奶门、KTV裸 门、街头门、剑桥留学门、复旦叫床门、央视日食门、跳舞门、央视拼接门、杭州茶水门、 北京空姐吸毒门、强拍门、建桥门、酒瓶门、裸奔门、车祸门、排便门、易中天毒舌门、吊灯门、淫媒门、扒衣门、盒子门、公共情妇门、喂奶 门、吉野强奸门、劲爆酒吧交合门、14连号门、雅芳传销门、雅芳退货门、混帐门、茂春门、插笔门、移动门、南大寂寞门、香港后楼梯门、河马门事件、跳蛋门、亚姐洗澡门、重庆 护士门、失身门、都江堰艳照门、渔家船舱门事件、留学生周玉洁艳照门、婚礼门、东财王婷婷艳照门、台湾美女刘莎莎艳照门事件、柳花门事 件、破处门、 李美静艳照门事件、上海地铁洗手门、烧钱点烟门、激吻门、广东开平中学性虐门、梅璇婷喂奶门、跳跳门、飞机门、牵手门、机场门、涉黑门、 奶粉门、泄漏门、 车震门、偷笑门、野战门、玫瑰门、杨幂门、夹腿门、怀孕门、公园拉拉门、BT门、川版扫黄裸照门、黄瓜门、乞讨网费门、鼻血门、闪婚门、 洗脚门、偷拍自杀 门、停播门、玩尸门、福清海边门、开心门、泼墨门、兽兽门虐狗门、郑璇门、张雅茹门、献身门、惠普门,技校门、90后女孩冯仰妍破处门、疫苗门、(金妍儿)骚扰门、撞衫门、跪 地门、捐款门、“车祸门”、录音门、封号门、茶杯门、校鸡门泼墨门接吻门秒杀门吹箫门、 魔兽世界交易门、野战门、公交门、网吧门、广院献身门、肯德基秒杀门、珠海旋风门、师生激吻门、郑中基蔡卓妍离婚门、合肥力量哥裸奔门、 香港卧室门、南京 悠悠大学校花门、海运门、成都脱衣门、家乐福“价签门”、乐淘网秒杀门、恒顺醋业陈醋勾兑门、麦当劳汉堡胚子门、萝卜哥求婚门、健力宝金 罐门、楼市艳照 门、人参门事件、微笑门副校长乱摸门烧包门

Source.

We may compare the list of Chinese scandals having the "-men 门" suffix with a list of controversies in English bearing the "-gate" suffix.  It didn't take long for the former to catch up with the latter in terms of productivity.

[Thanks to Tansen Sen, Geoff Wade, Rebecca Fu, and Ziwei He]

Update: I forgot to include this closing verse from ch. 1 of the Tao Te Ching:

Xuán zhī yòu xuán,
Zhòng miào zhī mén.

玄之又玄,
众妙之门。

Mystery of mysteries,
The gate of all wonders!

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17 Comments »

  1. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 5:45 pm

    Four decades ago when I was a kid in Tokyo I would read the newspaper column of the gaijin humorist http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Maloney_(author), and for some reason have "mizu no mon" as his gloss of "Watergate" (obviously a potentially awkward topic for Americans living overseas at the time) still stuck in my head. "Mon" is 門 (same character w/o PRC loss of strokes), but I don't know if it took on a broader meaning of "scandal" in Japanese and I suppose I don't know if Maloney's phrasing was even what the Japanese-language press was using to refer to the U.S. scandal (as opposed to e.g. the katakana for "watageitu" or something like that.

  2. Confused said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 5:56 pm

    Your "official" and "Japanese" simplified characters are displayed identically for me, presumably because of font incompatibilities. Might I suggest you consider using images rather than text, when the exact form of the glyph is relevant to your point?

  3. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 6:02 pm

    OK, Japanese wikipedia has コリアゲート for Koreagate (i.e. transliteration rather than calque), but Chinese wikipedia has 韓國門事件. Korean wikipedia has 코리아게이트, which also (I'm relying on the internet here because I can't read hangul even a little bit) seems like a transliteration. Wikipedia says "[citation needed]" for the claim that Koreagate was the first major post-Watergate -gate, but it's certainly the earliest one that made any lasting impression on me.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 6:31 pm

    @J. W. Brewer

    Thanks for making a start on Japanese and Korean. It will be interesting to see if this morpheme has travelled into many other languages as well.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 7:07 pm

    @Confused

    In my post, I give plenty enough references and links for you to see all three forms.

    Look around on this page (a reference to which was included in my original post) and you can see all of them: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E9%96%80

  6. Adrian Morgan said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 7:10 pm

    In my browser "the official simplified character" and "this mysterious form" render identically no matter what font settings are used. It is reasonable to assume that the same is true for most readers, the exceptions being those with several Chinese fonts installed.

    Given that, I would suggest editing the article so that the statement: "Unfortunately, this unofficial 门 shares the same Unicode code point as the official Chinese simplified form 门. Software may display one or the other depending on one's font and language configurations." (or some version of it) appears as a parenthesised comment closer to the point where the two characters are first presented (and not at the end of the following paragraph as currently).

  7. Victor Mair said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

    This is the traditional Chinese character:

    http://www.zdic.net/z/27/js/9580.htm

    This is the official simplified Chinese character:

    http://www.zdic.net/z/27/js/95E8.htm

    The unofficial simplified Japanese character is no. 2 on this list:

    http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%95%A5%E5%AD%97#.E5.AE.9F.E4.BE.8B

    Because the original post is showing all right on the browsers of many readers and also because it is, as it were, rather delicate, I'd rather not mess with it any further. Those who are having difficulty seeing the three different forms of the character can refer to this comment and to my previous comment to Confused.

  8. Stephan Stiller said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 1:33 am

    I don't see the 門/门-pair in the official kyūjitai/shinjitai-list, so I am assuming that someone just thought that – if 门 doesn't normally make an appearance in a Japanese computing locale – assigning the Japanese variant to that codepoint in some font is unproblematic.

    I think that whichever browser you were using guessed the language of the characters in the expression 臭肉门 wrong (the webpage's source only ever declares 'lang="en"', English) and picked a font that was designed for Japanese. I have encountered the issue of software rendering Chinese text in a Japanese-looking font before. As the two paste as identical codepoints, using HTML language tags should solve the problem, and explicitly specifying appropriate fonts should too (and is safer but less pretty as a workaround).

  9. Shane Steinert-Threlkeld said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 2:21 am

    It seems to me that "-gate" in English is also no longer restricted to events with political significance. At least in the sports world, it gets thrown around with relative impunity. When it was believed that the New England Patriots had filmed practice of the New York Jets, the media ran with "Spygate" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_National_Football_League_videotaping_controversy). A controversy surrounding the New Orleans Saints was named "Bountygate". Actually, Wikipedia has a list of "-gate" controversies, although not all of these names took off to the same degree: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scandals_with_%22-gate%22_suffix

  10. Keith said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 3:59 am

    There is also an English version of the article on Ryakuji (unofficial abbreviation or simplified form).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryakuji

    It shows the Ryakuji for MON/kado.
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9c/Japanese_abbreviation_kanji_mon.png

  11. Jerome Chiu said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 4:01 am

    Perhaps there is an additional level within the sphere of association in the Chinese-speaking world: the 門 in Roshomon 羅生門; and maybe this is one of the reasons why the usage of the -gate construction in Chinese extends beyond events with major political implications.

  12. Vilinthril said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 4:26 am

    In German, it used to be the case that “-gate” was reserved for major (political) scandals, but as your German-language sibling blog reports here, it's recently been broadened to be applied to even triflingly small matters: http://www.sprachlog.de/2014/01/28/and-the-winner-is-gate/

  13. /df said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 6:53 am

    British comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb hypothesized about the -gate naming of various political scandals, such as one about water and of course one about a gate. Lo, life imitated art when a politician was denied the use of a gate but the media avoided the obvious designation in favour of Plebgate . I suspect that the term "Gategate" lost out because it made the daftness of the -gate construction too obvious.

  14. /df said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 6:54 am

    Links for the above were stripped out, trying again:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vB9JgxhXW5w
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plebgate

  15. Victor Mair said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

    Though it's not very well written, this article in Chinese traces the evolution of the -men morpheme from Watergate to its widespread adoption in China.

    http://culture.people.com.cn/GB/70806/70982/12557191.html

  16. chris said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 7:23 pm

    Both the original post and the brandchannel article linked show only the simplified Chinese character Victor linked to on July 29 at 7:30 — at least, on my browser. This does indeed make the discussion of the two simplified forms rather mystifying — I scrutinized them for a while wondering if there was something my untrained Western eyes were missing.

    But maybe we shouldn't allow this to distract too much from the main point about "-gate" being calqued into Chinese? It seems odd to me that Chinese wouldn't have already had adequate terms for scandals, but then, so did English and that didn't stop -gate from proliferating in English; I don't really understand why.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    July 31, 2014 @ 10:45 am

    From Fangyi Cheng:

    The examples I can give are "故宫会所门 (http://baike.baidu.com/view/5748076.htm)", "解说门 (http://baike.baidu.com/subview/355439/12443295.htm, http://baike.baidu.com/subview/355439/12443296.htm). Meanwhile, you will find that the explanation given by 百度百科 is more detailed (http://baike.baidu.com/view/1038317.htm?fr=aladdin).

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