Your column is a pack of damn lies, a reader wrote to William Safire about a political piece he did in the New York Times.Brushing aside the stern criticism, Safire immediately debated whether it should be damn, the way it sounds, or damned, as the past participle of the verb, to damn. The ed on some words is simply slipping away, he points out. We're seeing more barbecue chicken, whip cream and corn beef. His conclusion: Ears are sloppy and eyes are precise; accordingly, speech can be loose but writing should be tight.
More than illness or death, the American journalist fears standing alone against the whim of his owners or the prejudices of his audience. Deprive William Safire of the insignia of the New York Times, and he would have a hard time selling his truths to a weekly broadsheet in suburban Duluth.