Big Brother News…

By Carl Zimmer | March 11, 2010 5:47 pm

Good news! My brother Ben has been appointed the new language columnist for the New York Times Magazine, taking over from the late William Safire. Expect a few more shamelessly fraternal links next week to various appearances associated with his new position.

I promise to lobby hard for science-related language columns, nefariously using my family back channels. It’s all for a good cause! Here’s an example of my subliminal big-brother mind-control–a conversation Ben and I had on

And here’s the press release the Times just issued:

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The New York Times Magazine announced today the appointment of linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer as the new “On Language” columnist. Mr. Zimmer succeeds William Safire who was the founding and regular columnist until his death last fall. The column is a fixture in The Times Magazine and features commentary on the many facets – from grammar to usage – of our language. “On Language” will appear bi-weekly beginning March 21.

“I look forward to continuing this fine tradition with my own take on how language shapes our past, present and future.”

In making the announcement, Gerald Marzorati, editor of the magazine said, “Ben brings both an academic’s deep knowledge and a maven’s eye, ear and passion to his commentary on the way Americans write and speak now. We welcome him to our roster and know our readers and ‘On Language’ devotees will greatly enjoy his columns.”

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be welcomed in the space that William Safire called home for thirty years,” Mr. Zimmer said. “I look forward to continuing this fine tradition with my own take on how language shapes our past, present and future.”

Mr. Zimmer is the executive producer of and, online destinations for learners and lovers of language. He is the former editor of American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and is a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. He was previously a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Research in Cognitive Science. He is a 1992 graduate of Yale University with a B.A. in linguistics. He studied linguistic anthropology at the University of Chicago and is the recipient of many fellowships including ones from the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Program and the Ford Foundation. He has taught at UCLA, Kenyon College, and Rutgers University. He was a frequent guest contributor to the “On Language” column, and his work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, Slate and several language blogs. He is on the Executive Council of the American Dialect Society and a member of the Dictionary Society of North America.

Mr. Safire served as the “On Language” columnist from its inception in 1979 until his death in 2009. In his columns he parsed words, phrases and points of grammar and usage about our written and spoken language.


Comments (8)

  1. Congrats to the illustrious Zimmer family!

  2. Fantastic! Congratulations!

  3. HP

    That’s great! I know that Safire was a great talent and a sentimental favorite of many, but many (most?) of his claims were linguistically spurious. From his work on Language Log and Word Routes, I know Ben has the linguistics chops and the research skills to do something really remarkable with the type of column that’s usually given over to a “language maven” or grammar scold.

  4. minusRusty


    Carl, a question I didn’t get to ask you when we met briefly in Denver:

    What influenced both you and your brother to be involved in language, you as an author, and him as a linguist/lexicographer?


    [CZ: Rusty–No idea on that one. Siblings are mysterious.]

  5. Naomi

    So impressed! I am proud to say you are my (2nd) cousin. Your grandfather and my father were brothers. You look so much like the pictures I have of your grandfather. Huge family resemblance. By the way, I am a word freak and grammar lunatic.

  6. minusRusty

    Naomi: “By the way, I am a word freak and grammar lunatic.”

    -R: Must be genetic. Brothers, and now cousins. Genes are mysterious …. :-)


  7. Hey! I would like to state that I love your writing style and that so I want to follow your blog frequently from now on :-) Keep it up!


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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