It's important to word freaks like me to know that there are others out there who treasure the nuances of language, love to learn new words, collect provocative phrases, and the like. People like me have a two sided view of the web in this regard. On the one hand, the Internet makes it infinitely easier to find folks like ourselves, other vocabulary nuts and conversation aficionados. On the other hand, emails and web journalistic styles have in many people's view dumbed down the use of language, the attention to style and grammar, the niceties of verbal exchange.
So it is with sadness that we say goodbye to one of the greatest experts--and lovers--of English language usage, William Safire. To be sure, Safire was a Renaissance man, with a string of achievement over a long lifetime. He was President Nixon's speechwriter and won a Pulitzer for his political writings in the New York Times. He also wrote several books of fiction and books on politics as well. What I loved him for, though, was his extensive work, both in his New York Times column (over thirty years running) entitled "On Language" and his other efforts to tame the laggards and lazy language users. He would have loved that last sentence, by the way, because he was addicted to alliteration.
He became known as the unofficial arbiter of usage of the English language. He pretty much appointed himself the expert and we all lauded him for it. At one point, he stated in print that Hillary Clinton was a "congenital liar."
That statement caused a stir, as you can imagine it would. Hillary's response to it, though, delighted him.
Maureen Dowd, in today's New York Times, refers to that famous exchange. (Dowd must have been truly close to Safire; she includes a picture of the two of them in her column today, a practice I've never seen before. Ever.) In reference to the "congenital liar" statement, Dowd points out that it may be one of the few grammatical errors Safire ever made. ""Congenital usually connotes a condition existing at birth." Which is why Hillary's response to Safire is so wonderful in itself: she replied she was offended only for her mother's sake. You may want to read Dowd's entire column for yourself to get a measure of the man and the affection he earned from colleagues like Dowd as well as worshipers from afar like me.
So it is sad to note the passing of this lover of language who fed all those with verbal appetites so well. His goodies in the Times columns kept us chewing for weeks on the finer points of usage. He'll be missed.
So that's why it is good news that there are others who have picked up the torch. One acolyte is Adrienne Carlson, who wrote me an email today suggesting I check out her blog called Accredited OnlineDegrees.org, specifically for her recent post entitled "75 Awesome Tools, Games, and Links for Word Lovers."
Her compilation is enough to make William Safire smile.