Ben Zimmer Named New York Times Language Columnist

We are very pleased to announce that Ben Zimmer, executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and, has just been named the "On Language" columnist for The New York Times Magazine. He will be replacing William Safire, who passed away last year after writing the "On Language" column for thirty years. Beginning with the March 21 issue of the Magazine, Ben will be writing the column on a biweekly basis.

Loyal readers will be familiar with Ben's work here in his "Word Routes" column, which he has written regularly since joining the Visual Thesaurus team in 2008. Before that time, he had worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press, and he remains a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as a member of the American Dialect Society and the Dictionary Society of North America.

Ben's writing about language has also appeared in Slate, the Boston Globe,, and the linguistics blog Language Log. William Safire frequently called upon his linguistic expertise, once calling him "that etymological Inspector Javert." He filled in as "On Language" columnist in 2009 when Safire went on hiatus due to ill health, and after Safire's passing he wrote a touching tribute in the Magazine entitled, "The Maven, Nevermore."

In the official announcement from The New York Times, Ben said, "It's an honor and a privilege to be welcomed in the space that William Safire called home for thirty years. I look forward to continuing this fine tradition with my own take on how language shapes our past, present and future."

We too are looking forward to his explorations of the richness of language, which he will be pursuing in both his "Word Routes" and "On Language" columns. Congratulations, Ben!

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Comments from our users:

Friday March 12th 2010, 6:26 AM
Comment by: Terese F. (Madrid Spain)
I'm sorry I voted one star by mistake. I meant 5 stars. As a New Yorker I recognize what a big honor this is and offer sincere congratulations.
Friday March 12th 2010, 7:23 AM
Comment by: Orin Hargraves (CO)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Fantastic, Ben, and bravo to the NYT for recognizing they had the best man for the job. I'm looking forward to years of engaging edification.
Friday March 12th 2010, 7:48 AM
Comment by: Adrienne D. (Beachwood, OH)
Now we can all say: We knew Ben when "Palinize" wasn't a word. Even we Ohioans (via New York) know what a huge deal this is. Next thing we know, you'll be editing the NYT crossword puzzle. Can't wait to read you in the NYT.
Friday March 12th 2010, 8:37 AM
Comment by: Margaret P. (Brooklyn, NY)
Friday March 12th 2010, 8:51 AM
Comment by: Tom W. (New York, NY)
The first time my name appeared in print was in Safire's first book on letters he received on his column. The book too, was entitled "On Language." After that I always had a special affection for him.

Zimmer has big shoes to fill. I wish him well.
Friday March 12th 2010, 10:13 AM
Comment by: Valerie B. (Dorchester, MA)
Congratulations, Ben!! That's fantastic!
Friday March 12th 2010, 10:32 AM
Comment by: Erin B. (Haverhill, MA)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Congrats, Ben!
Friday March 12th 2010, 11:44 AM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
Congratulations, Ben! They are big shoes to fill, but then you probably have really big feet! I just hope they are big enough to keep walking within the language lounge here!

I was always a fan of Safire's. I am currently a fan of Zimmer's.

Good luck! It's a marvellous position to be in.
Friday March 12th 2010, 11:46 AM
Comment by: Mark P. (Chicago, IL)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Ben has long been "The Man". Now it's official!
Friday March 12th 2010, 1:19 PM
Comment by: David D. (Seattle, WA)
In my enclave, Berkeley, California, we still express joy by saying:
Friday March 12th 2010, 2:25 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
Shouldn't we all share a drink to this, toasting Ben?

Friday March 12th 2010, 2:34 PM
Comment by: Cody (Eugene, OR)
This is fantastic news! Congratulations to Ben Zimmer. When William Safire passed away and James Kilpatrick retired "The Writer's Art" column, I felt an intelligent America would disappear even more quickly than current evidence indicated it would. I assumed our nation's language was doomed to drop into a dungeon of demoralizing, disasterous, deathly, and just plain dumb writing! Now I feel excitement, relief, and gratitude.
Saturday March 13th 2010, 11:33 AM
Comment by: Leontine R. (Chicago, IL)
I am more than pleased since Safire's column is the only one I've been consistently reading in the Sunday Times. Ben is a perfect person to take over and I also hope he continues the grammar debated such as, "standing in line versus standing on line!"
Sunday March 14th 2010, 12:44 PM
Comment by: William M. (Chevy Chase, MD)
Bravo! Have been rooting for Zimmer and delighted there will be a worthy replacement for one of the best chairs in journalism.
Sunday March 14th 2010, 9:54 PM
Comment by: Diane T. (Plainsboro, NJ)
This is great news! Congratulations, Ben. I was just saying Friday morning (I hadn't heard the news yet) that I although I really missed Safire, I did enjoy On Language when Ben wrote it. Back in September, I wrote on my blog ( about how I was "Lost on Language." While I'll always miss Safire, I'm really pleased to hear that we have a new navigator who will keep us on the right linguistic road.

Looking forward to seeing the column become weekly!

Diane Thieke

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Ben reflects on the passing of William Safire.
"Fail" for the Win!
The word "fail" was the topic of Ben's first "On Language" guest column.
Ben joined the Visual Thesaurus team in April 2008.