U.S. President George W. Bush (R) honors William Safire as one of the 2006 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House in Washington, December 15, 2006. REUTERS/Larry Downing

William Safire, the former Richard Nixon speechwriter who went on to become known for his columns on politics and language in The New York Times, has died, the newspaper said on Sunday.

Safire, who was 79, died at a hospice in Rockville, Maryland, the Times said. An aide to Safire said he had suffered from cancer.

Safire won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1978 and had been writing the Times' On Language column since 1979. The column, which made him an influential commentator on language, examined the origins of words and phrases and their proper usage.

Before joining the Times, Safire worked in politically oriented public relations and joined the speechwriting team at the Nixon White House in 1968. He was credited with coining the phrases nattering nabobs of negativism and hysterical hypochondriacs of history that Vice President Spiro Agnew used to describe the U.S. media.