The Timesobit is written strongly enough in the Safire style--in one case he's described as "a Pickwickian quibbler who gleefully pounced on gaffes, inexactitudes,
neologisms, misnomers, solecisms and perversely peccant puns"--that it makes you wonder if he drafted it himself. There's plenty more Safire on the Times site: you might begin with where he ended, his last opinion column, in 2003, called "Never Retire."
Of his dozens of books, the one that may last the longest combined two of his passions: Safire's Political Dictionary. For the latest edition, published in time for last year's election, he answered some questions from our own Lauren Nemroff. Here's her final question for him:
Amazon.com: You call this dictionary your "labor of love."
How do you feel about passing the baton off to a new editor when it
comes time to work on the next edition?
political lexicographer gets a secret thrill out of discovering the
origin of a phrase that, but for his digging, might disappear into the
mists of Newsweek. Sometimes you just stumble across it like one of the princes of Serendip: an example is selling candidates like soap, which never had a demonstrable printed "attestation". But looking for the origin of Oval Office, I stumbled across it in the Times
archives: put forward by a supporter of a general for president in
1920. Col. William Proctor, scion of the Ivory Soap family, was the
demonstrable coiner. A minor triumph, but mine own.
More important to this work was the result of a "fishhook"--a query placed in my Times Magazine "On Language" column for the coiner of "Social Security is the third rail of American politics--touch it and you die." Henry Hubbard of Newsweek and Tom Oliphant of the Boston GlobeI hope the editor of the
agreed on the anonymous source: the late Kirk O'Donnell, an aide to
Speaker Tip O'Neill, who used it to both journalists in 1984. Whew! The
coiner's widow sent me a lovely, sentimental letter of thanks, which I
suppose has no place in a dictionary, but I put it in anyway because my
name is in this dictionary's title.
2018 edition of this hefty volume is making notes about the election of
'08, parsing Barack Obama's speeches ("Fired up! Ready to go!") and
Hillary Clinton's debate ripostes and John McCain's adoption of FDR's
warm my friends as his salutation. This work, like the language it covers, is great fun and never finished.