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Bill Safire, R.I.P.

Posted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 9:29 am
by timberline
The New York Times Magazine is the last section of the Sunday paper I read, and then weeks pass before I get to this mostly innocuous magazine. But when I open the pages, the first piece I stop at is Bill Safire’s “On Language” column. I’m a word nerd, keep a list of new words to learn, read the World Wide Words RSS feed weekly, and so on.

When I heard of Safire’s death, Sept. 28 of pancreatic cancer I felt the loss of a kinsman.

The Times obit mentions Safire’s “rules for writers,” which I love. “Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid clichés like the plague. And don’t overuse exclamation marks!” I even forgive him, when he was Nixon’s speechwriter, for coining Spiro Agnew’s phrase about “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

He was the kind of guy I’d want to have a beer with. He reportedly needed a shoeshine, hair could’ve used a trim, clothes were rumpled. “He was tall but bent—a man walking into the wind. He slouched and banged a keyboard, talked as fast any newyawka and looked a bit gloomy, like a man with a toothache.”

Yep, I know that kind of guy, and I recall banging out copy on a Remington when I was a cub reporter in the Chicago ‘burbs.

I’ll keep his last column when I dig through the pile on my coffee table. Now, the editors report he will be “on hiatus for a while.”

Posted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 12:48 pm
by pengwenn
Do you ever feel like the old calibur of writer who had to tough it out in the trenches for awhile is a thing of the past? It seems too many writers today have it a little soft while getting into the market.

Posted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:34 pm
by timberline
There was something exciting about the journeyman writer who wasn't allowed to come back without the story, who had to hit a deadline, who got it right on the first draft and used a blunt pencil to copy edit before the presses rolled at 3 p.m. More than that, the reporter had to get the facts accurately, support them with unimpeachable sources, and shoot for editorial integrity.

Nowadays, just ask someone to give you the five Ws in 30 words or less.

And, without Spell Check,know "calibur" is spelled caliber or calibre.

Posted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 7:06 pm
by pengwenn
Where I went to Kindergarten they didn't believe in teaching kids to read or write until 1st grade. We learned the alphabet and how to write individual letters, but not words. Then we moved.

Where I went to 1st grade they taught everyone to read and write in Kindergarten (Phonetically). I still remember the first day of 1st grade. I was told to sit next to John Festin (who lived right behind us...and I eventually had a crush off and on until we graduated high school) and I looked up at the board and I didn't know what it said. I saw letters and that was all I knew. I went home and cried. And continued that routine for much of the 1st grade.

I was abysmal at reading and writing until 4th grade when we were required to read to a parent for 15 minutes every day. I think I read every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books to my mom during 4th and 5th grades. We also found out I had to get glasses then too.

Since then, I thought you spelled "exaggeration" as "eggeration" up until the 10th grade (I found a sophmore spelling test while packing up to move a year ago). I spell that color half way between black and white as "grey" instead of "gray" and I've always spelled calibur as . . . well, calibur.

I know I'm not perfect (which I use to always think was spell "prefect" even though I know how to say it [and that "use to" was spell "usedto" yes, one word]), but I'm just going to bask in the glow of getting a complete, coherent thought out on the page. Those have been few and far between as of late.

And I agreed whole heartedly with what you said.

Posted: Sat Oct 10, 2009 5:16 pm
by timberline
I went to schools where they considered you an intellectual if you read without moving your lips. Being a smartypants, I never learned sentence structure until I took foreign languages. Fortunately, my 11th grade English teacher knocked students off one grade point for every misspelling.

Posted: Sat Oct 10, 2009 6:58 pm
by Mlou
Hmmmm...pengie, I still think caliber is the word, unless you're talking about the sword, Excalibur, or some place in Vegas. And I'm gonna stomp you if you say "I use to", instead of "I used to". You're talking past tense here, used, not present. Okay, so I'm a nit-picker. *grin*
And timber, I DID like Safire's columns! They were great.