William Safire has passed away, and it is no small measure of his impact that even linguabloggers who were most critical of his "On Language" column in the New York Times Magazine (Languagehat, Mr. Verb, Wishydig) have been quick to post their sincere condolences. Grant Barrett has written about his generosity of spirit, and I too was touched by his personal kindness.
I'll be posting a longer remembrance tomorrow in my Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus, but for now I'd like to note one example where Safire, despite his occasional prescriptivist predilections, showed a willingness to heed the work of descriptive linguists. In a 2006 column, he described political "template phrases" such as "No X left behind" and "We are all X now." At the time, I was disappointed that he was unfamiliar with the work of Language Loggers on snowclones. But earlier this year, when Safire approached me for my thoughts on the expression "I don't do X," I nudged him to an appreciation of snowclones, and of Language Log. He followed up the column with another one ("Abbreve That Template") explicitly acknowledging Language Log's pioneering work in snowclonology. Even at the end of his prolific career, he was eager to learn something new.
[Update, 9/28: My Word Routes remembrance is here.]