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Columnist, speechwriter Safire dies

Wrote 'On Language' column for N.Y. Times

Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist, language expert and former White House speechwriter William Safire has died. He was 79.

His assistant Rosemary Shields says Safire died Sunday morning at a Maryland hospice. She says he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Safire spent more than 30 years writing on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. In his “On Language” column in The New York Times Magazine and 15 books, Safire traced the origins of words and everyday phrases such as “straw-man,” “under the bus” and “the proof is in the pudding.”

As a speechwriter in the Nixon White House, Safire penned Vice President Spiro Agnew’s famous phrase, “nattering nabobs of negativism,” a tongue-in-cheek alliteration that Safire claimed was directed not at the press but Vietnam defeatists.

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