Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice

July 18, 2004|By Michael Pakenham

The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time, by William Safire. Simon & Schuster. 408 pages. $27.

Safire, political columnist and language cop for The New York Times, continues to demonstrate superhuman productivity. This latest collection of materials, first published in his "On Language" column in the Times' Sunday magazine, is his 24th book. (There are three others, done with a co-author, and a great speeches anthology.) If you aren't already familiar with Safire's loving defense of grammatical discipline, which seems unlikely, this could be a splendid introduction. Arranged alphabetically by the main word, term or concept of each item, his explorations range from acronymania through netspionage to zhlub. But mainly the entries are about quite familiar terms, tracing their proper use and wanton abuse. Safire is consistently funny, precise and instructive. He leaves language in better shape than he found it.

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