Ben Zimmer could certainly advise anyone which word to use right now. And before him, William Safire would have, too.
Last Sunday The New York Times Magazine published the final "On Language" column. For three decades, it reminded readers of middle school teachers hammering home vocabulary words and sentence structure. And the words and phrases weren't wily-nilly either — they were pegged to the news. Take for example the overly-used and utterly-lame phrase under the bus.
Safire wrote the column for more than 30 years, and Zimmer took over when his predecessor died in 2009. It's true that we in the radio business don't know how to write complete sentences. And vocabulary? Keep it simple, stupid. Still, I was always fascinated by the column, if for no other reason, it was a consistent lesson that news makers will always butcher language. And so will I.
Zimmer's last column wasn't a eulogy. Instead, he titled it "The Future Tense."
I don't know anyone brave enough to gamble an epitaph.