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Another dumb newspaper decision

The New York Times is about to introduce a redesign of its Sunday magazine. When that redesign appears next week, “On Language” will not be a part of it.

“On Language” was written for thirty years by the late William Safire (nil nisi bonum) and more recently by the estimable Ben Zimmer, a linguist who wears his learning lightly and informs reliably. His graceful final column can be found here. It alone can suggest to you the quality of what the paper is discarding.

The Times, despite its inherent interest in clarity and precision in language, apparently finds that “On Language” no longer fits its editorial vision for the magazine. I have been on the business end of such editorial illuminations for three decades, and the only thing that one can do is to close one’s eyes and think of England.

Perhaps a more alert publication will move quickly to take advantage of the talent The Times has so incontinently shrugged off. In the meantime, Mr. Zimmer’s work, and that of other informed commentators, can be found at the excellent Visual Thesaurus, for a nominal subscription. (I had allowed mine to lapse but, ever a repentant sinner, have returned to the fold.)



Posted by John McIntyre at 3:43 PM | | Comments (4)


When I once told one of my law professors that he should take a look a Safire column, he said he rarely found it worthwhile to read Safire's political musings. When I pointed out is was one of Safire's On Language columns, my professor agreed it would be a worthwhile read after all.

I have missed Safire's (and his occasional pinch-hitters') language columns, and now will miss his successor's as well. More's the pity.

Well, John, you're the bearer of very bad news indeed. Hats off to Mr. Zimmer. He did a perfectly terrific job with the column. I shall miss it.

Mr Safire it was who coined the joyful phrase "Yassar That's My Baby Arafat." It sent newspaper editors all over the country into gales of unusual - for them - laughter.

A Facebook group has started to try to get the NYT to reconsider its decision:


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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