William Safire, a Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times, novelist, author, and creator of a Malaprop’s treasury of articles on language, died this past Sunday at the age of 79.
Image the typical button-down Times reporter… That is not William Safire.
His shoes were in perpetual need of a shine, his graying hair constantly in need of a trim.
In the days when suits were everyday wear for reporters , his jackets all seemed to have that peculiar ‘slept-in’ look. Shirt collars open, and tie askew as himself.
Mr.Safire slouched, wore a perpetual scowl, and insisted on banging on a keyboard as if it were an old fashioned typewriter.
He served as a public relations man in the Nixon Administration, then from 1973 to 2005 wrote a twice-weekly “Essay” for the Op-Ed page of The Times.
As a times reporter noted; "In Safire’s world of politics and journalism, there was his own unambiguous wit and wisdom on one hand and, on the other, the nattering nabobs of negativism and hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history."
A talented linguist with an addiction to alliterative allusions, Safire was a contrarian who called people liars in print. His opinions were always laced with outrageous wordplay. He won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
Of particular note to readers of this blog:
He wrote “On Language,” the New York Times Magazine column that explored written and oral trends, from 1979 until just earlier this month.
Along with a stable of correspondents he called his Lexicographic Irregulars, he plumbed the origins and meanings of words and phrases. The column made him something of an unofficial arbiter of usage, and certainly one of the most widely read writers on language.
The column also tapped into his lighter side: that of "a Pickwickian quibbler who gleefully pounced on gaffes, inexactitudes, neologisms, misnomers, solecisms and perversely peccant puns."
He wrote columns on such topics as blogosphere blargon, tarnation-heck euphemisms, and dastardly subjunctives.
And then there were the inevitable Safire rules for writers,
including such gems as;
Remember to never split an infinitive.
Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
Avoid clichés like the plague.
And don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
We’ll miss you, Mr. Safire.