Returning after a regrettably long absence I would like to mention something that I saw on Trip Adviser. A hotel in Spain was replying to a customer who had complained that the hotel didn’t have irons for hire. The response was that this was the hotel’s policy ‘for security reasons’.
Clearly they mean safety, not security; there is an obvious fire risk in hotel guests using irons in their rooms. The root of the problem is that Spanish seguridad covers two concepts that are clearly differentiated in English.
As I say in A Guide to English Language Usage:
Both of these are to do with protection from danger.
Safety is protection from natural risks: The flooded river threatened the village’s safety; or unintentional man‑made dangers: safety at work; the safety of drugs. Note the endings of the abstract nouns: safety but unsafeness.
Security is protection against deliberate human activity: The company’s security department is investigating the theft; A security guard is on duty at the factory all night.
Safety regulations ensure that an aeroplane can fly with the minimum risk of mechanical or human failure. Security staff ensure that terrorists do not board the plane. Safety at work refers to physical safety in the workplace; job security is the certainty that you will not lose your job.
A security is a name for a financial instrument such as a share certificate. Security for a loan is the valuable object that is offered as a guarantee of repayment.
And more succinctly in Great English Mistakes:
The Spanish word seguridad corresponds to two different but connected ideas in English. Safety tells us whether a thing is physically safe. Security is related to prevention of risk from human activity. So in an airport the safety check makes sure that the wings will not fall off the plane and the security check makes sure that no bombs are on board the plane. Sometimes seguridad has to be translated as safety and security in English.
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