Sunday, September 27, 2009

Safire remembered

The posts I've done out of frustration with William Safire were a lot of fun to write. And tho my first reaction to hearing of his death was to lament the loss of the occasional kindling for my own tiny little flame war, I'm now glad to have read some kind words about him from the linguistic community.

I'm especially happy to contrast their words with the thoughts of a friend who has sought to diminish Safire as "merely a wordsmith" who "wowed the hick hoards and the Right's craven captains of capitalism." Merely, Alex? C'mon.

On the ADS LISTSERV Gerald Cohen comments: "Safire was a very valuable link between academia and the general public on matters of lexicography, and (bless him) etymology."

Grant Barrett, who has never been afraid to point out the gaps in Safire's scholarship, has posted in memory of Safire's generosity:

He supported the Historical Dictionary of American Slang when it applied for funding during my editorship, by writing letters of support that shone with erudition and respect. He gave my book, the Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang, a much kinder review than it deserved.

Perhaps most importantly, he gave me credit as often as possible in his column for helping him with his research, which allowed my own star to rise in the "language dodge," which is what he called this maven-rich, grammarizing, languagey niche we both inhabited. He did this for lots of people and he did it unbegrudgingly.

Steven Dodson at languagehat posts a very fine memory of Safire's graciousness in response to Dodson's demanding editing of Safire's Political Dictionary:

He fully appreciated my pickiness about details and had no hesitation making changes I recommended, even occasionally adding chunks of text I provided; what's more, he credited me by name in those entries and added this heartwarming text to the acknowledgments: "For this fifth edition, Stephen Dodson provided the kind of creative copy-editing and a lust for historical accuracy and semantic precision that a political slanguist expects in dealing with the Oxford University Press, world’s greatest lexicographic organization."

It's nice to see that linguists know how to hold on to their standards and share a kind thought as well.

1 comment:

  1. 'hick hoards'? Ah, my work is not done.

    Best wishes,

    Safire's Spirit


Thanks for reaching out.

You can also contact me at wishydig[at]gmail[d0t]com.