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William Safire – a man of words

10/05/2009

Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.
William Safire

William Safire’s passing deserves a post from this English Lit major turned copywriter turned teacher.

Language and conversation defined our Sunday afternoon ritual. Parishioners and family popped in and out while the New York Times and the Daily News sat by silently, like holy vessels awaiting their moments. They were as much a part of the day as morning religious services, classic Sunday dinner, along with pastry and rolls from the bakery across from church.

My Dad would begin his weekly retreat to the NY Times puzzle by settling in his living room chair and picking up his pen. Almost oblivious, we, in turn, noisily devoured the Daily News comics.

Somewhere around the time of my Dad’s passing, William Safire’s “On Language” columns began to run in the NYTimes magazine. I found reading them refreshing, sustaining and collegial. Every aspect of language appeared to inspire him and those of us who read him. With every read, you’d find yourself robustly confident to see more precisely and craft your writing at every level — whatever the brand or campaign.

I enjoy this collection of podcasts (see link above) as much as the original columns. Safire comments to the clarity of thinking that’s critical to writing an editorial opinion. If it takes more than three hours to craft it, he observed, go back and check your opinion. It’s likely you have too many opinions where there should only be one, expressed simply and clearly.

That’s a wonderful observation every writer should keep close by. Clear writing and clear thinking go hand in hand.

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