William Safire Dies at Age 79

Originally posted 27 Sep

William Safire, longtime New York Times political columnist and author of that newspaper’s Sunday “On Language” column died today at age 79. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Safire was a speechwriter for the Nixon-Agnew administration, noted for coining such phrases as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” From 1973-2005 he wrote his twice-weekly column on politics for the Times. And from 1979 to earlier this month he wrote the weekly column on language. He was also the editor of Safire’s Political Dictionary and numerous other books on language and usage.

He was probably the most widely read and famous commentator on language in the United States, even if his approach was idiosyncratic, his research sometimes sketchy, and his pronouncements often at odds with those of professional linguists. He certainly did have a gift for coming up with a clever turn of phrase. He will be missed.

Update (28 Sep):

Some remembrances from various language commentators on the web:

Language Hat

Grant Barrett

Ben Zimmer on Language Log and on Word Routes

John McWhorter

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