A man of many words, the language Columnist, William Safire

Keywords: Language columnist. William Safire

Meta: A columnist writes articles regularly in a magazine or newspaper. He or she is a journalist. While, a language columnist introduces new words, vogue phrases, and so on.

 William Safire began his language column on 18 Feb 1979, promising to explore intriguing roots of discourse every day and new words. His introduction was simple to readers, and it was his act of telling.

About the language columnist

The language columnist, William Safire used space for over 30 years and presented over 1300 crisp installments. He styled himself as ‘Language Maven.’ 

William Safire started as a reporter during his writing career and became a speechwriter in the Nixon White House. Over time he took up with New York Times and worked for three decades and wrote in the New York Times Magazine a column on language.

When he joined New York Times to write a language column, he was already a master and had a lot of prize-winning attributes. Yet, he professed he had no credentials for this new job and recalled his hiring as English-Speaking-World Usage Dictator. He had not finished college, nor did he study Latin, but was a champion in the language dodge and said ‘a cat could look at a king.’

He anointed himself jokingly as ‘Usage Dictator,’ and was not comfortable in handling down infallible decrees. As his self-mockery note, he liked the title of ‘Maven.’ He enjoyed his 1993 columns collection. Over time the acute awareness of Safire had his expertise, and it was lost on critics and fans. People were impressed with Professor Geoffrey Nunber, a linguistics professor from the University of California, and began investing in him. Later, battles raged between descriptive linguists and prescriptive grammarians and lexicographers, while Saffire played both sides. There began huge arguments, and there was a doomsaying if ‘English is a dying language?’

Safire’s world

The language columnist, William Safire, saw life everywhere, welcomed old or new words, and used it in new ways. He added color and gave more precision and greater expressiveness. He rejoiced in the American dialects, did monumental research, and in a column single the finds of Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). One such was hootenkack, which means ‘to talk to someone into doing that he dislikes doing,’ and Pinkletink means ‘a tree frog name in Martha’s Vineyard.’ He wrote a point as ‘if you do not give a hootenkack for a pinkletink, it shows you are insensitive to the color and excitement of migrating.’

Safire embraced the American Speech vividness, and he was considered to be a defender of ‘correct English.’ However, he changes the signs of the express lane to ‘Ten Items or Fewer from Ten items or Less. He frustrated many by shifting the words meaning.

His book-jacket copy got him “the widely read and vociferously argued-with writer on the English language.” His strength was his openness to critique. Dwight Bolinger, the linguist, and the poet Jim Quinn published books in 1981, being critical of Safire’s language punditry, but Saffire took no offense and invited them to write guest columns.

William Safire was popular for his column in The New York Times, and losing him at 79, the Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist, language expert, and former White House speechwriter, was disheartening.

Safire was diagnosed with cancer, and he died in Maryland hospice. Safire had given his 30 years in The New York Times, writing the Language column and writing 15 books. He was brilliant in assessing nuances of politics and the language, besides being funny and was kind to give credit always to others.

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