Join 3,556 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The maven is dead, long live the maven.
March 12, 2010 7:38 AM   Subscribe

The late William Safire left behind a language-column vacancy that the NY Times has been filling with a rotating crew of language experts, some better than others. Now they've announced their choice for a permanent replacement, and it could hardly be better: Ben Zimmer, an actual linguist. Reading "On Language" will be slightly less enjoyable for us nitpickers but a lot more informative.
posted by languagehat (30 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is outstanding news. Safire was wonderful and is much missed.

I'm gratified that the current administration has brought literacy back to the White House. As a literature major and lover of artful language, I was in a constant state of horror during the Bush years.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:47 AM on March 12, 2010


Why the hell didn't they give the job to YOU, languagehat?
posted by spicynuts at 7:53 AM on March 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


Oh, hooray! I've been enjoying his columns so far.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:54 AM on March 12, 2010


> Why the hell didn't they give the job to YOU, languagehat?

I like cursing too fucking much.
posted by languagehat at 7:57 AM on March 12, 2010 [23 favorites]


Here's the On Language archive, in case anyone (like me) doesn't get the NYT.
posted by muddgirl at 7:57 AM on March 12, 2010


I, like I imagine most people, know Zimmer from Language Log, which is a delight to read and a source of fascination for anyone with even a passing interest in English and its uses.

This is fantastic news, and thanks, muddgirl, for the link to the column. I subscribe to NYT online for the crosswords, so feel pretty guiltless about browsing their columns gratis.
posted by Shepherd at 8:08 AM on March 12, 2010


Wonderful news, congratulations to Zimmer.
posted by Dim Siawns at 8:08 AM on March 12, 2010


That's great! I didn't realize he contributed to the outstanding Language Log.
posted by Mister_A at 8:15 AM on March 12, 2010


I could care less. For all intensive purposes, the internet has made knowledge of proper grammar a mute point. Irregardless of this guy's qualifications, I'd just assume lay down in a cactus bed as read his column. This news has literally put me to sleep.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:08 AM on March 12, 2010 [45 favorites]


Atom Eyes, Zimmer's columns aren't about 'proper grammar'. If you haven't read any of them, I don't know why you'd assume they are.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 9:27 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I made the same mistake as you did, chorltonmeateater. Then I finished reading Atom Eyes's comment...
posted by muddgirl at 9:28 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's obvious now it's been pointed out to me. Sorry!
posted by chorltonmeateater at 9:30 AM on March 12, 2010


Well played, Atom Eyes. Well played.
posted by brundlefly at 9:30 AM on March 12, 2010


Safire was amusing. He had a speech writing gig for one of the GOP presidents, and he leaned heavily to the right in his policial writing. His language stuff was fun but Steven Pinker noted that it was often not in line with linguistic thinking, as was often the case for language pundits who were not linguists. My favorite part of reading Safire on language was to spot his use of right of center example used to discuss language issues. I hope the new guy lasts. But then too I hope the paper does too.
posted by Postroad at 9:33 AM on March 12, 2010


When Atom Eyes comes by later to check the trap he'll be stoked!
posted by Mister_A at 9:34 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I feel stupid now.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 9:39 AM on March 12, 2010


As do I, chorltonmeateater. I didn't catch it till muddgirl pointed it out. I was about to hit post, too!
posted by brundlefly at 9:46 AM on March 12, 2010


His language stuff was fun but Steven Pinker noted that it was often not in line with linguistic thinking, as was often the case for language pundits who were not linguists.

The irony being that Pinker's views are often not in line with linguistic thinking, either.
posted by cogneuro at 9:55 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


And for those not in the know he joins his brother Carl Zimmer, Science Columnist, over at the New York Times. Carl also runs a fantastic blog called Loom.
posted by ghostpony at 9:58 AM on March 12, 2010


What did they put in the water in the Zimmer household?
posted by dirty lies at 10:43 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:48 AM on March 12, 2010


What did they put in the water in the Zimmer household?

Books.
posted by booknerd at 12:13 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


"We" nitpickers?
posted by LiliaNic at 12:15 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"We" nitpickers?

Object of a preposition. Where's my column?!
posted by DaDaDaDave at 12:25 PM on March 12, 2010


"What did they put in the water in the Zimmer household?"

Books.

as illustrated in this Wondermark comic
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:48 PM on March 12, 2010


the maven, nevermore
posted by bukvich at 2:58 PM on March 12, 2010


Ha! I was wondering whether Language Hat had heard about this (OK, that was dumb) and then I realized who'd posted it in the first place.

This is good news!
posted by Michael Roberts at 4:14 PM on March 12, 2010


I'm a day late to this, but could someone clear something up for me? Was I just imagining things, or did Safire's language column become a ton more obnoxiously political once he quit his post on the op-ed page? (I get that if I shared his views on politics I'd likely have been less annoyed, but it sure seemed to me like it became a column almost exclusively about language use in Washington -- spun through his Neocon blind spots. It hadn't been that way in the 90s and early 2000s, right?)
posted by nobody at 6:09 PM on March 13, 2010


No, I don't think that's the case. I'm pretty sensitive to neocon stuff and got annoyed when he shoehorned it in, and I think I'd have noticed if it had gotten worse, but that's not my recollection. He really did seem to be trying to keep away from politics for the most part, though of course he couldn't resist the occasional zinger.
posted by languagehat at 2:46 PM on March 14, 2010


I'm glad you followed up on this, languagehat. It compelled me to take a slightly closer (though still cursory) look through the archives you linked to.

Glancing at the "more on:" tags for his columns gives a quick sense of how often the main subject was politics or U.S. government -- and it doesn't look this was the case as frequently as I remembered over his last four or five years.

The first three columns after his op-ed retirement, however, happened to be on politics or government (I'm including a column on CIA spooks in this rubric), and that's probably when I formed my impressions.

It also looks like he tends to write more political language columns during heated parts of election cycles, and 2008's lasted longer than most.

Another data point: he wrote no political columns between the 2004 election and his op-ed retirement at the end of January 2005, so the three in a row that appear immediately after that were even more likely to trigger suspicions of a causal connection.

It would be neat to see these tags charted out over time, but I don't have the time or skill-set to do it. (It's definitely possible that my foray through the tags lists has been chock full of confirmation bias.)

For future reference, links to different points in the archives (with rough accuracy):


2000 election

2004 election

2005 retirement from op-ed page

buildup to 2008 election
posted by nobody at 6:06 PM on March 14, 2010


« Older Merlin Olsen, NFL legend and TV star (Little House...  |  Paris in 26 gigapixels... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments