William Safire, RIP

It’s turning into a bad month for conservative pundits -with first Irving Kristol and now William Safire moving from the opinion page to the obituary page.

In Safire’s case, however, he will be remembered more for his interest in other people’s words than his own words of political commentary. As the NYT obituary says

from 1979 until earlier this month, he wrote “On Language,” a New York Times Magazine column that explored written and oral trends, plumbed the origins and meanings of words and phrases, and drew a devoted following, including a stable of correspondents he called his Lexicographic Irregulars.

One of my (rather too many) nerdish interests is in the origins of phrases and sayings, and his Safire’s Political Dictionary is invaluable for the history of political terminology.

If you ever want to know the origins of expressions like ‘rubber stamp’, ‘political mileage’, ‘merchants of death’ and hundreds of others, Safire’s dictionary is the place to look (though it let me down on ‘barefoot and pregnant’).

And then there were his rules for writing:

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!!

And I would add ‘Never put apostrophe’s in plural word’s.’

William Safire, RIP.

3 Responses to “William Safire, RIP

  • 1
    Martha Maus
    September 29th, 2009 10:20

    Nerd that I must be, the origins of words is one of my interests too, Andrew. Sadly for my future reading, I encountered his writing and speeches only in the last few years. He had such skill that his sentences sparkled. R.I.P.

  • 2
    Martha Maus
    September 30th, 2009 14:21

    William Safire’s favorite cartoon.
    I’m sorry to say that I don’t really get it.

  • 3
    alanc
    October 1st, 2009 12:40

    Looks like the man with gun is the one asking the question.