Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist William Safire died today outside Washington, the paper reports. He was 79 and suffered from cancer. A onetime speechwriter for Richard Nixon, Safire, a self-described "libertarian conservative," used his background as a reporter and love for English usage to punch up his op-ed column, which he wrote from 1973 to 2005, and books of history and fiction.
The author of the Times Magazine "On Language" column from 1979 until just a few weeks ago, Safire was a legendary wordsmith who coined the phrase "nattering nabobs of negativism." The bestselling novelist was also "a pugnacious contrarian," colleague Robert D. McFadden writes in his obit. "Along the way, he incurred enmity and admiration, and made a lot of powerful people squirm."