September 28, 2009
William Safire (Courtesy The Associated Press)

William Safire (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Remembering William Safire

William Safire, a former speechwriter for President Richard M. Nixon and a renowned wordsmith who became a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, died Sept. 27. He was 79.

For the past 30 years, Safire wrote the popular "On Language" column for The New York Times Magazine, which wittily explored the origins and meanings of words and highlighted abuses of the English language.

From 1973 to 2005, he wrote the "Essay" column twice a week for the op-ed page of the Times. The column offered a conservative perspective on events, but Safire was not afraid to go after those on the right when he disagreed with them.

"I'm willing to zap conservatives when they do things that are not libertarian," Safire told The Washington Post in 2004. "The wonderful thing about being a New York Times columnist is that it’s like a Supreme Court appointment — they're stuck with you for a long time."

As a speechwriter, he famously coined the phrases "nattering nabobs of negativism" and "hysterical hypochondriacs" used by then-Vice President Spiro Agnew to describe critics of the Vietnam War.

Safire won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1978 for a series of columns questioning the financial dealings of then-President Jimmy Carter’s budget director Bert Lance, who resigned and later was acquitted by a federal jury.

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