Season 2 Episode 14

Hello, this is Sean. Happy Chinese New Year and welcome back to Ethos English, the podcast for advanced English learners and the people who teach them.  

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Although the World Cup recently held in Qatar already feels like a distant memory for many of us, there are still some major corruption scandals being looked into in Europe directly linked to this high profile sporting event. Last month the European Parliament Vice President Eva Kaila was arrested and charged with corruption related to Qatar’s campaign to bribe officials. Interestingly, Kaila had met with the Qatari minister of Labour and upon her return to Brussels praised the country as a “frontrunner in labour rights” in front of the European Parliament. Police then found huge sums of cash in her apartment that she was unable to account for. Coincidence? I think not! 

Unsurprisingly Kaila – and Qatar – have denied any wrongdoing, that is they insist they are innocent. Now, in the wake of this scandal the European Parliament has announced measures to combat corruption by offering greater protections to whistleblowers, that is, those who work for an organisation who tell the authorities that people in that organisation are doing something illegal, dishonest or wrong. 

In a Radio Free Europe article the author states the following: 

“Brussels has always been something of a lobbyists’ paradise, with thousands of politicians, officials and diplomats in the same place with very lenient rules.”

There’s some interesting language here. Brussels has always been something of a lobbyist’s paradise. This chunk is used to describe a person or thing in a way that is partly true but not completely or exactly. So we could say that Brussels is something of a lobbyist’s paradise is a more formal way of saying that Brussels is kind of a lobbyist’s paradise. It’s a way to make a statement more tentative, less aggressive. Another useful word from this short quotation is lenient. Brussels rules around lobbyists are very lenient, that is, not very strict.

Now, part of the reason I was keen on discussing this news story this week is because it has been dubbed, that is named, Qatargate. And here the suffix gate basically refers to a scandal. And it’s quite common in the media to hear about different scandals referred to as something -gate. Another recent example was the so-called Partygate incident during the beginning of the Covid lockdown in the UK. The then Prime Minister Boris Jonson, along with other elected officials, including the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, were found to have attended parties when such gatherings were illegal.

So, where does this tradition of naming political scandals with the suffix -gate come from? In the early 1970s the then US President Richard Nixon – a Republican – was found to have been involved in authorising the burglary of the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington, DC. What’s more, Nixon was involved in his party spying on the Democrats. This eventually was revealed in the media and Nixon resigned in August of 1974. It’s worth pointing out that he’s the only US president to ever resign. This original scandal was referred to as Watergate, in reference to the name of the building where the Democratic Party’s headquarters were located. And since then journalists around the world have used the ending -gate for all sorts of scandals, and the suffix has even spread to other languages, including Chinese! 

If you’re interested you can check out the Wikipedia entry on this, which I’ve linked in the show notes. In this entry there’s an interesting quotation from the sociologist John Thompson, who criticised the media’s obsession with scandals, which he called “scandal syndrome”. He wrote the following on scandal syndrome.

“[A] self-reproducing and self-reinforcing process, driven on by competitive and combative struggles in the media and political fields and giving rise to more and more scandals which increasingly become the focus of mediated forms of public debate, marginalising or displacing other issues and producing on occasion a climate of political crisis which can debilitate or even paralyse a government.”

I think this is an interesting reflection. In the case of Qatargate, is the media coverage of the misdeeds of some of the Members of the European Parliament going to do more harm than good? Is it going to contribute to voter apathy? What do you think?

Now, let’s go over this week’s vocabulary

bribe: illegally give someone, especially a public official, money or a gift in order to persuade them to do something for you – noun form, that is the phenomenon, bribery

The only way we could get into the country was by bribing the border officials.

account for: give a satisfactory explanation of why something has happened or why you did something – synonym, explain

Can you account for your movements on that night?

 I think not: (formal) used to say that you strongly believe something is not true or that you disagree with someone

This could be a coincidence, but I think not.

deny (any) wrongdoing: state that you are not guilty of something wrong or illegal, often used with any for emphasis

Mr Pasqua has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and says he has never met Mr Falcone.

in the wake of: if something happens in the wake of an event, it happens afterwards and usually as a result of it.

Famine followed in the wake of the drought.

whistleblower: someone working for an organisation who tells the authorities that people in the organisation are doing something illegal, dishonest or wrong

The company had paid out substantial sums to silence would-be whistleblowers.

something of a: used to describe a person or thing in a way that is partly true but not completely or exactly

The news came as something of a surprise.

lenient: not strict in the way you punish someone or in the standard you expect

School examiners say that marking has become more lenient in recent years.

dub: give something or someone a name that describes them in some way

The body, thousands of years old, was found in the Alps and dubbed “The Iceman”.

burglary: the crime of getting into a building to steal things

Police are investigating a spate of burglaries in the Kingsland Road area.

misdeed: (formal) an act that is criminal or wrong

She’s been making up for her past misdeeds by doing a lot of voluntary work.

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