Far from the madding gerund: the "we knew Ben Zimmer when" edition

Time to meet William Safire’s replacement for the "On Language" column over at The New York Times.

But if you read Language Log, you already know him. Ben Zimmer has been posting there regularly since 2005. Before that, LL readers knew him as a frequent commenter whose remarks were frequently mentioned by Mark Liberman and Geoff Pullum in their own posts.

And if you’ve really been paying attention (like me), you’ll know that two of his comments were so good that Pullum insisted they appear in our book collection of Language Log posts, Far from the Madding Gerund, in 2006. I think Geoff put it to me like this: “You are a fine editor, Tom [Geoff is always so gracious when the knife is still held behind his back], but if Zimmer’s posts on Churchill are not included in the book, there will be no book. I hope that’s clear. Maybe you’d like that, though; it would free you up to go back to measuring your woodpile, or whatever it is you do up there in Oregon.”

OK--maybe not his exact words, but I can’t locate the exact words in my flawed email filing system, so I’m forced to resort to making things up (which I just hate to do, by the way--apologies to Geoff if I’ve misquoted, but I think I have not).

And then, if you’ve really, really been paying attention (like me), you will also know that it was a series of Ben Zimmer posts (covering a topic which will by necessity not be covered in his NY Times column--you have to get the book to know what I mean by that) that was selected to represent Language Log in Sarah Boxer’s Ultimate Blogs (2008).

And if you’ve pay any attention at all to the language usage biz (like me), you’ll also know that Ben has been one of the rotating columnists the Times has employed to write the “On Language” column during William Safire’s absence due to illness and since his passing.

Somewhere along the line, Zimmer became editor of Visual Thesaurus, which is perhaps the best-produced language usage site for the general reader on the web, due in no small part to his acumen.

Being asked to write the “On Language” column must be the language-columnist equivalent of being asked to host The Tonight Show. William Safire set the standard for the position just as surely as Jack Paar did so for the late-night talk show. This is big--really, really big. The only thing bigger than this is the congratulations and best wishes we send to Ben Zimmer. Ben Zimmer, “On Language” columnist for The New York Times just sounds great, doesn’t it? This is going to be good.

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