Safire’s political views are right of center and are called “libertarian conservative.” His views on the English language can be described with the word “conserve,” but not with the word “liberty.” As a lexicographer, Safire is smug and self-indulgent. As a writer, his prose is the stuff of which nasal passages are made—there is no awe and wonder in his tone; his style is wingtip oxford; and his cry in the wilderness has the smell of aftershave. He is neither street smart nor rides a western saddle. His officiousness sits high above Park Avenue.
For those who read his column “On Language” every Sunday (and even for those who do not) there is nothing new under the sun here. QUOTH THE MAVEN recycles old columns and adds the spin of reader responses in some cases. Vanity of vanities. One might believe that Safire is simply milking money from previously written discourse. If only Safire had read the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, he might have found a legitimate reason for publishing this latest collection.
This book of old columns has no pace, no collective insights, no vision, and no redemption. It closes with an index, about which Safire is gratuitously proud; in which do not appear the words “effete snob.” One feels he would like the word “icon” in the tributary scrollings on his next book jacket. The rank of icon requires sitting with the people and eating the mixed greens of community service, the grits of compassion, a cup of moderation; and (for dessert) humble pie.