Safire’s Rules for Writers

From Robert D. McFadden’s obituary on William Safire, the Nixon-Agnew speechwriter, conservative columnist, and usage maven:

“… And there were Safire ‘rules for writers’: Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid cliches like the plague. And don’t overuse exclamation marks!!”

Did I like the guy’s politics? No–not that it matters. But you have to love a guy so precisely but unfussily focused on the language and how we use it.

[Update: In his “On Language” column for October 7, 1979, Safire included a query to his readers:

“I am compiling “Ten Perverse Rules of English Grammar.” Thanks to Philip Henderson of Lawrence, Kan., I have three. They are: (1) Remember to never split an infinitive. (2) A preposition is something never to end a sentence with. (3) The passive voice should never be used.

“Any others along these lines?”

Four weeks later, Safire published, “The Fumblerules of Grammar,” which contained the first three dicta and 33 more (ending with “last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague; seek viable alternatives.”) Here’s the complete set of 36 rules (along with some research disclosing that another writer published a similar list earlier in 1979). In 1990, Safire reprinted the list (and added 18 more “rules”) in “Fumblerules: A Lighthearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage.”]

One Reply to “Safire’s Rules for Writers”

  1. I liked him. Wasn’t as self-promoting or self-important as the ones who followed on that side. Maureen Dowd had a terrific tribute to him the other day. I’m sure you saw it.

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