Nancy Friedman at Away with Words recently posted mumblecore as word of the week, which made me realize that -core has the makings of a snowclone morpheme. Then AwW reader Dave Blake posted a link to some Wikipedia discussion of the affix, specifically in reference to its use in music:
The -core suffix is widespread in modern music. User Wikiman232 details 57 of them, including queercore, gothcore, mathcore (dissonant ‘noise rock’), metalcore (metal and punk), cuntcore (Vain Jane in 1997, to satirize ‘cock rock’), speedcore (superfast), and thugcore (hiphop and metal). He also lists 2 insult ‘-core’ names and 33 obscure names. (The others weren’t obscure?)
‘Mumblecore’ sounds like a breakthrough extension: I found no youth culture ‘-core’ neologisms outside of hardcore rock.
232 also notes record labels Bubblecore, Housecore Records, and Punkcore Records, and bands Bloodcore and Redcore.
Google also revealed to me discussion of grindcore and its connection to hardcore.
Hardcore is the original referent here, and since it is not a word that may only be applied to musical styles, I don’t think it’s accurate to call any non-musical instance of Xcore a “breakthrough extension.” When the -core affix is attached to a word, it is meant to apply the “militant, fiercely loyal” sense of hardcore to that word.
There is a reference to hard-core pornography dating to a Supreme Court discussion in 1964 at the Online Etymology Dictionary, and the first traced use of the word goes to 1951.
One interesting thing here is that -core has not undergone a complete semantic shift as the -gate of Watergate has done.1 -gate now has a sense of scandal, and no connection to the “door” type sense of gate. While -core is something of a truncation of hardcore, (just as -gate is a truncation of Watergate), it has not lost its “central, essential, enduring” sense.
So the case for Xcore and Xgate as snowclones, rather than regular old morphemes, is that they are meant to evoke the original words they were part of, hardcore and Watergate. Kirkgate and Highgate, for example, are not instances of the Xgate snowclone, because their -gate has only the “door” sense. (Though it should be noted that because they are (sur)names, they tend to be analyzed as single morphemes, rather than as a composition of their original morphemes.)
And it’s not only Americans who employ the -gate morpheme! Thanks to José San Martin for providing the Italian Laziogate and Brazilian Frangogate examples. Wikipedia also has a whole article just for a “List of scandals with [the] ‘-gate’ suffix.”
1 from Zwicky, A. M., and Spencer, A., ed. The Handbook of Morphology, 2001. p. 359.