No safe place

April 07, 2013|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

During the session with editors of the Associated Press Stylebook at the American Copy Editors Society's national conference in St. Louis last week, someone brought up the issue of safe haven.

It was a voice from the back of the room and I didn't quite gather the import, but someone later asked whether the term shouldn't be avoided because it is redundant. Indeed. It is an obnoxious pleonasm, a haven being by definition a safe place. But the stylebook editors on the panel, David Minthorn and Darrell Christian, declined to condemn it, because, they said, it has become a stock phrase.

Imagine my chagrin at finding myself in at least partial agreement with them. It has indeed become a stock phrase to which no one gives any thought, and, like kudzu introduced into the environment, it can be hacked away at but never extirpated.

However often it may have appeared over the centuries out of innocent ignorance, I suspect that its latest vogue can be attributed to some bureaucrat, perhaps someone in what we laughingly call the intelligence community, who found haven a poor bare thing and decided to dress it up in that combination of pomposity and vacuity so prized in bureaucratic communication.

We cannot identify that wretch, and to throttle him now would do no good. So I consign him, and his descendants to the seventh generation, who probably are no better respecters of languages than he is, to the seventh circle of Dante's Inferno, along with the violent against God, nature, and art. While consigning, I grant him the company there of the first advertising copywriter who came up with free gift.

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