William Safire Quotes

William Lewis Safire, 1929 – 2009

Born: 17 December 1929, New York City
Died: 27 September 2009, Rockville, Maryland

Safire graduated from Bronx High School of Science, attended Syracuse University for two years. Despite dropping out, he delivered the commencement address there in 1978 and 1990 and became a trustee. He worked with a producer of radio and television shows, was a correspondent for WNBC-TV in Europe and the Middle East, and served in the Army from 1952 to 1954, including reporting for Armed Forces Network. While working in public relations he organized a display of American home products at Moscow in 1959, then maneuvered Richard Nixon and Nikita Krushchev into the “kitchen debate” in a kitchen setup by his client. He operated his own PR agency from 1961 to 1968 when he went to work in the Nixon White House, writing speeches for Nixon and Spiro Agnew. After Watergate he became a political columnist for the New York Times, writing twice a week until 2005. From 1979 through the month of his death he wrote “On Language” for the New York Times Magazine. (See The Fumblerules of William Safire) He wrote four novels, several political works, a number of significant works on language, and a long list of volumes compiled from his columns. Safire died from pancreatic cancer at a hospice, aged 79.

William Safire quotes:

A reader should be able to identify a column without its byline or funny little picture on top purely by look or feel, or its turgidity ratio.
    William Safire

Adapt your style, if you wish, to admit the color of slang or freshness of neologism, but hang tough on clarity, precision, structure, grace.
    William Safire

After eating, an epicure gives a thin smile of satisfaction; a gastronome, burping into his napkin, praises the food in a magazine; a gourmet, repressing his burp, criticizes the food in the same magazine; a gourmand belches happily and tells everybody where he ate; a glutton embraces the white porcelain altar, or, more plainly, he barfs.
    William Safire

Better to be a jerk that knees than a knee that jerks.
    William Safire

Composition is a discipline; it forces us to think. If you want to ‘get in touch with your feelings,’ fine — talk to yourself; we all do. But, if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts. Put them in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce. The secret way to do this is to write it down and then cut out the confusing parts.
    William Safire

Create your own constituency of the infuriated.
    William Safire

Decide on some imperfect Somebody and you will win, because the truest truism in politics is: You can’t beat Somebody with Nobody.
    William Safire

Ears are sloppy and eyes are precise; accordingly, speech can be loose but writing should be tight.
    William Safire

English is a stretch language; one size fits all.
    William Safire

Have a definite opinion.
    William Safire

I could get a better education interviewing John Steinbeck than talking to an English professor about novels.
    William Safire

I think we have a need to know what we do not need to know.
    William Safire

I want my questions answered by an alert and experienced politician, prepared to be grilled and quoted – not my hand held by an old smoothie.
    William Safire

If America cannot win a war in a week, it begins negotiating with itself.
    William Safire

If you want to “get in touch with your feelings,” fine, talk to yourself. We all do. But if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts.
    William Safire

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