Sunday, September 27, 2009

Goodbye, Willie

William Safire died today.

The headline that revealed this news to me prompted a heartfelt, audible gasp.

William Safire's regular contributions to The New York Times Magazine's "On Language" section were always a treat for someone interested in language, grammar, etymology, or the general progression of cultural phenomena.

What's strange, however, is that the article made only a brief mention of that widely popular language column. Instead, it focused on Safire the way may parents' generation might remember him: for his speechwriting for Nixon, his criticism of Hillary Clinton, and his political contributions in the 70s.

But I think my generation knows Safire differently. He was a conservative, yes, but I think if you asked any well-read 20-something or 30-something about William Safire, they would know him as "that dude who writes that column on language and stuff." (Except they would, of course, say it more eloquently).

Safire's unique, intelligent, and stimulating observations on the English language examined etymology in the most immediate sense - as it was happening. It's a shame that the article made such little mention of Safire's most scholarly - and nonpolitical - contributions.

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