Haven and harbor
I have railed for years against the irritatingly redundant safe haven—a safe safe place as presumably contrasted against an unsafe safe place—and to no avail. What I suspect may have risen as a bureaucratic fondness for unnecessarily multiplying words now appears to have become something like an idiom, a stock phrase that nearly everyone unthinkingly uses.
Today I have the unpleasant duty of disagreeing in part with Brenda Batten, who, tweeting as @BloombergStyle, wrote, “Safe harbor and safe haven are redundant terms. Harbor, haven or refuge is enough.” That is about half right.
A haven is always a safe place, a refuge. A harbor, not necessarily so. An anchorage in a harbor may be exposed, making it an unreliable refuge. Last week, for example, the Navy Times reported that thirty-six ships left anchorage at Norfolk to avoid the advancing Hurricane Irene. Not all the harborage was safe in such a storm.*
Safe haven remains an obnoxious pleonasm, and I will stand by Ms. Batten against it until the Last Trump sounds. But safe harbor is unexceptionable—likely the source of the confusion by which safe was transferred to haven but still a perfectly reasonable term.
*Twenty-eight ships remained in the Hampton Roads in secure anchorages, which, yes, the Navy Times called “safe havens.”