Years ago, I used to read William Safire’s columns on the English language in Frontline. His columns made English grammar and usage seem more interesting than Wren and Martin ever could. I did not know then that he was a conservative political columnist, or that he was Nixon’s speechwriter, or that he worked at the New York Times. It’s quite possible that I’d never heard of the New York Times. I was just a schoolgirl.
But I liked his take on English usage. We were both, in different parts of the world, using and modifying a language that came to us through history, through colonization. The English would say neither of us spoke the “real” English. Though I’d say that these days, the only Briton who still speaks the Queen’s English is the Queen – when she is not texting her grandsons on her cellphone.
William Safire had a great sense of humor. But my last(ing) memory of him is going to be something completely different from his politics or his language. I imagine him as he would have been a few weeks ago, possibly in a hospital room, probably in a lot of pain, and still finding the strength to send in a column to the NYT, talking about the health-care debate and “bending the curve”.
He must have really loved his work. Or the English language.