More on Safire

Over at the Slog, Sean Nelson takes the time for more nuance than I did, but comes down in about the same place:

Though you could feel an aging man’s dismay (and sometimes disdain) coming through the pieces he wrote about tech talk and the newspeaky constructs of text and IM-based communication, his diligence in reporting and contextualizing them never faltered. He had a corny sense of humor and his puns were usually groaners. Still, it’s hard not to love the opening line of the intro to his 2004 On Language collection, The Right Word In the Right Place at the Right Time: “We will come to sodomy in a moment.”

Nelson also pulls this Safire quote:

“Knowing how things work,” he wrote, “is the basis for appreciation, and is thus a source of civilized delight.”

If that isn’t the essence of being a geek, I don’t know what is.

It also occurs to me that an excellent successor to Safire is found in Roy Blount, Jr., whose Alphabet Juice is less prescriptive but even more enthusiastic, and marinated in southern charm to boot.


William Safire

Nixon speechwriter turned political analyst William Safire has died. What I read of his political writing encapsulated everything I can’t stand about American political conservatism, although it was well-reasoned and insightful by the Glen Beckian standards of the present era. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed “On Language,” his magazine column about words and their usage. On that subject, Safire was geekily, infectiously enthusiastic, and that’s an attitude that transcends a lot of political backbiting.*

*Incidentally, Oxford English Dictionary defines “backbiting” as “the action of detracting, slandering, or speaking ill of one behind his back,” and dates its first usage in this sense to approximately 1175 CE, not long before the origin of parliamentary democracy.