December 17 ~ Never Assume How Not to Write

"Never assume the obvious is true." ~ William Safire

William Safire

Journalist, language legend, and presidential speechwriter William Lewis Safire (19292009) was born on this day in New York City, from a young age he was exposed to his neighborhood's blend of languages--Italian, Yiddish, Chinese, and more.

"Good writing is the transmission of original ideas," he said.

Beginning in 1968, he was then-President Richard Nixon's "absolutely trustworthy" speechwriter for five years, partial to alliteration ("nattering nabobs of negativism"), but always a genius with words.

"Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy?" he said. "I don't know and I don't care."

In 1973, he joined The New York Times as a political columnist and snagged the coveted Pulitzer Prize in 1978. "Thoughtful troublemaking is good," he said.

For 30 years, from 1979 until his death, Safire wrote the "On Language" column, over 1300 installments, in the New York Times Magazine. A celebration of dry humor and cleverness, his popular column demonstrated his writing skill and flair.

Calling himself a "libertarian conservative," he was respected by both conservatives and liberals, published four novels, and was a popular on-air pundit. He once said, "Only in grammar can you be more than perfect."

Nothing is "obvious."