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William Safire

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Not a hopeless hypochondriac of history,
nor a nabob who was negative and nattered,
maven of the English tongue whose wordy mystery
he believed to English-speaking people mattered,
he was a columnist the New York Times allowed
to disagree with its opinions. There, as a pundit
who of America appeared to be as proud
as of his Jewish roots, he felt no less affronted
by solecisms, inexactitudes and gaffes,
than by excesses of the politicians who
abused the system. We will miss the paragraphs
where he conservatively wrote his point of view,
but even more we'll miss his irony and puns,
and his avoidance of mixed metaphors and split
infinitives. His bread and butter and his guns
were words which he would garnish them with brilliant wit.

Willam Safire died of pancreatic today in a hospice, September 27, 2009. Robert McFadden writes:

William Safire, a speechwriter for President Richard M. Nixon and a Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times who also wrote novels, books on politics and a Malaprop's treasury of articles on language, died at a hospice in Rockville, Md., on Sunday. He was 79. The cause was pancreatic cancer, said Martin Tolchin, a friend of the family.

There may be many sides in a genteel debate, but in the Safire world of politics and journalism it was simpler: there was his own unambiguous wit and wisdom on one hand and, on the other, the blubber of fools he called "nattering nabobs of negativism" and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history."...And 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.

The columns, many collected in books, made him an unofficial arbiter of usage and one of the most widely read writers on language. It also tapped into the lighter side of the dour-looking Mr. Safire: a Pickwickian quibbler who gleefully pounced on gaffes, inexactitudes, neologisms, misnomers, solecisms and perversely peccant puns, like "the president's populism" and "the first lady's momulism." There were columns on blogosphere blargon, tarnation-heck euphemisms, dastardly subjunctives and even Barack and Michelle Obama's fist bumps. And there were Safire "rules for writers:" 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 cliches like the plague. And don't overuse exclamation marks!!

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