The Washington political scene has lost one of its best minds with the death of William Safire.

I first met Bill almost 40 years ago, when he was writing speeches in the Nixon White House and I worked on Capitol Hill. He later moved on to write for The New York Times op-ed page, where he usually propounded a sensible, conservative path that stood in contrast to almost all the newspaper’s other writers. It was, for 30 years, the best thing in the Times.

Safire knew that words mattered.

He literally wrote the dictionary of American politics, and regularly updated it as political events created new words and expressions for him to dissect. His “On Language” column in the Times had nothing to do with politics, but was also must reading for anyone interested in language, words and syntax.

As Washington enters a busy season of political disagreements over issues ranging from Afghanistan to health insurance, Safire’s sharp wit and clear writing will be missed.