The New York Times Magazine is the last section of the Sunday paper I read, and then weeks pass before I get to this mostly innocuous magazine. But when I open the pages, the first piece I stop at is Bill Safire’s “On Language” column. I’m a word nerd, keep a list of new words to learn, read Quinion's World Wide Words RSS feed, and so on.
When I heard of Safire’s death, Sept. 28 of pancreatic cancer I felt the loss of a kinsman.
The Times obit mentions Safire’s “rules for writers,” which I love. “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!” I even forgive him, when he was Nixon’s speechwriter, for coining Agnew’s phrase about “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
He was the kind of guy I’d want to have a beer with. He reportedly needed a shoeshine, hair could’ve used a trim, clothes were rumpled. “He was tall but bent—a man walking into the wind. He slouched and banged a keyboard, talked as fast any newyawka and looked a bit gloomy, like a man with a toothache.”
Yep, I know that kind of guy, and I recall banging out copy on a Remington when I was a cub reporter in the Chicago ‘burbs.
I’ll keep his last column when I find it in the pile on the coffee table. Now, the editors report he will be “on hiatus for a while.”