Monday, September 28, 2009

RIP: William Safire

William Safire has died at the age of 79. In his long career as a columnist, he wrote two different kinds of columns, both of which influenced me greatly. Safire was both a small-l libertarian and a language maven (which is not quite the same thing as a martinet). He wasn't afraid to call out Republicans when he thought they deserved it, even if I didn't. And on those rare occasions when we disagreed, he forced me to dig deep and check my premises, for his arguments were always well thought out.

His "On Language" columns, in particular, may have helped fuel my appetite for understanding how words and their meanings have evolved. I have long believed that sloppy language breeds sloppy thinking. When we have a President who can, with a straight face, claim that a reporter looking up the definition of "tax" in Merriam-Webster's dictionary is doing so in order to stretch it, we will sorely miss a lover of language like Safire.

Godspeed, Bill.

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