The utterly brilliant grammarian (and political speech writer) William Safire (may he rest in peace) coined this beautiful, alliterative phrase while writing a speech for Spiro Agnew to give in the midst of Nixon’s (now famous) disgrace. Agnew, whose boisterous bluster during this time was penned by William Safire, uttered this now historical first sentence…
“In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H club — the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”
…and it has had an huge impact on conservative politics to this day, becoming synonymous with “mainstream media” among conservative political pundits as a poetic way of describing a seemingly ubiquitous class of liberal reporters and journalists who seem hellbent on discrediting every conservative politician and policy that comes down the pike.
But this is not a post about politics…
…nor is it about the nattering nabobs of negativism themselves.
It is about these lovely, alliterative gems. Because aside from being synonymous…in context…with liberal-leaning media types, what do the actual words mean?
- Nattering…to talk incessantly; to chatter.
- Nabobs…very wealthy, influential or powerful persons.
- Negativism…a negative or pessimistic attitude; any system of negative philosophy, such as agnosticism or skepticism.
Had Agnew mouthed something about persistently pessimistic people who talk alot, or wealthy influential types who chatter skeptically, there is very little doubt that while his meaning would have been virtually the same, it would not have had the alliterative shock value, nor would it have gone down in history as political (and grammatical) gold. William Safire knew what he was doing, and he was extraordinarily good at it, unmatched in grammatical prowess by virtually any other writer, save, perhaps, William F. Buckley.
So for today, I am appreciating this Safirism while endeavoring to avoid the nattering nabobs he so disliked.