Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and former Nixon White House speechwriter William Safire died this weekend at age 79.
A columnist for the New York Times for more than 30 years, Safire won the 1978 Pulitzer prize for his writings on a now obscure scandal involving an appointee of President Jimmy Carter. He was on the Pulitzer board from 1995 to 2004. The following year, the New York Times launched On Language, a weekly magazine column in the New York Times magazine in which Safire would dissect popular and political usage of the English language, tracing the origin of phrases such as “dirty tricks” and “suspension of disbelief”. He wrote 10 books on English, leading the Times to dub him the most widely read writer on the language.
I certainly didn’t care much for most of Safire’s politics, although he partially redeemed himself to me with his attacks on Dubya’s rollbacks of civil liberties. But, oh how I adored his On Language columns, where Safire could make even a discussion of the semi-colon riveting.