The Concepts of Risk, Safety, and Security: Applications in Everyday Language

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Abstract

The concepts of risk, safety, and security have received substantial academic interest. Several assumptions exist about their nature and relation. Besides academic use, the words risk, safety, and security are frequent in ordinary language, for example, in media reporting. In this article, we analyze the concepts of risk, safety, and security, and their relation, based on empirical observation of their actual everyday use. The “behavioral profiles” of the nouns risk, safety, and security and the adjectives risky, safe, and secure are coded and compared regarding lexical and grammatical contexts. The main findings are: (1) the three nouns risk, safety, and security, and the two adjectives safe and secure, have widespread use in different senses, which will make any attempt to define them in a single unified manner extremely difficult; (2) the relationship between the central risk terms is complex and only partially confirms the distinctions commonly made between the terms in specialized terminology; (3) whereas most attempts to define risk in specialized terminology have taken the term to have a quantitative meaning, nonquantitative meanings dominate in everyday language, and numerical meanings are rare; and (4) the three adjectives safe, secure, and risky are frequently used in comparative form. This speaks against interpretations that would take them as absolute, all-or-nothing concepts.

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