Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Feeling Sure about 'Safety' and 'Security'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Feeling Sure about 'Safety' and 'Security'

Article excerpt

These two terms often travel together across the lips of public officials, but they do differ in meaning.

Why do public officials, and sometimes ordinary people, speak all the time of "safety and security"? Isn't one of these redundant, a reader wants to know.

Broadly speaking, safety is freedom from accidental injury or from illness, and security is freedom from intentional attack. A safe road is one you can travel without skidding into another car or falling into a pothole. A secure road is one you can travel without coming under attack from armed insurgents. But we also speak of "safe streets" or "safe neighborhoods" to refer to those that are free of crime, which is a form of intentional attack.

English is full of "twins" - pairs of words, one from the Germanic side of the family and one from the French or Latin side, with essentially the same meaning but generally a whiff of contextual difference.

But safety and security are a different kind of pair. Both come ultimately from Latin - but from two different concepts. Safe came into English around 1300 from the French sauf, which in turn traces back to a Latin word, salvus, meaning healthy, uninjured, or safe. Security and secure, on the other hand, come from Latin words "without care."

Security, thus, is a state of not having to worry. But it gets complicated from there. If you've ever winced at an endless loop of announcements in an airport beginning with "Due to heightened security..." you know what I mean.

No, it's "heightened insecurity" that's got us taking off our belts and shoes, emptying our pockets, and generally getting more police attention in the course of one brief plane trip than our grandparents may have experienced in their whole lives. …

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