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Does "safety level" mean the same thing as "level of safety"?

I suspect that the former is used as a technical term, with exact definitions of different safety levels. This would be similar to biosafety level, which talks about biocontainment of hazards. In such a scenario, it's describing what (or how much) safety precautions are required.

By contrast, I think that "level of safety" is a vague term, which you would use to describe a "high level of safety", or a "low level of safety", such as in this news article College Prep School Demands High Level Of Safety. And that it means that something is either safe, or unsafe.

onelook.com doesn't have an exact match for "safety level", nor for "level of safety".

Is my suspicion that the phrases have different meanings correct?

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As far as I can tell, the only difference is that "safety level" uses "safety" as a nominal adjective to modify "level" & "level of safety" uses the prepositional phrase "of safety" to complete & modify "level". I frequently use nominal-adjective phrases when I revise biomed abstracts if I have to cut as many words as possible. Sometimes I prefer the prepositional phrase modifier. It depends on the sentence. Sometimes one is more common than the other. I don't think there's a grammatical, technical, or semantic difference, only a style choice. –  user21497 Dec 28 '12 at 7:37
    
@BillFranke it's cool when you get a comment from a domain expert! –  Andrew Grimm Dec 28 '12 at 7:39
    
That's one reason this is such an interesting place. There are so many different kinds of experts here who know all kinds of things I don't. I learn a lot here every day. –  user21497 Dec 28 '12 at 7:41
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I dunno, but "safety level" makes me think "Why would an ordinary level be unsafe? Why do you need a safety version?" :) –  Marthaª Dec 28 '12 at 8:02
    
@AndrewGrimm Can you include relevant facts in your question which tend to support (or contradict) your suspicions and thoughts? Have you done your research? –  MετάEd Dec 28 '12 at 8:17

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) shows American English having a preference for level of safety over safety level by 3.5 to 1. Records in the BNC (British National Corpus), by contrast, show their use as being more or less equal.

We may speculate on why that might be so, but my own intuition suggests to me that the two expressions would be used in different contexts, with level of safety having a more specific reference and safety level a more general one. For example, the BNC has this extract illistrating level of safety:

Thermostat is the first level of safety. Set to operate at around 60C to 65C. Energy cut-out is the second level of safety and is set to operate at 85C to 90C to turn off the boiler or other source of heat. Temperature/pressure relief valve is the third level of safety and will discharge water (through a second tundish into a safe and visible place) if the temperature of the water reaches 95C.

Compare that with this, illustrating the use of safety level:

But the pound found a safety level and was firm against the mark and the dollar.

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Style choices are also contextual. One form sounds better in one context (perhaps because that's the way most users say or write it) & the other sounds better in another. There's no semantic difference & there's no difference in specificity in one type of reference than in the other. "But the pound found a level of safety and was firm against the mark and the dollar" is one word longer than the version in your answer. Newspaper articles have word limits, & readers are impatient to finish. I think you're reading too much into the difference. –  user21497 Dec 28 '12 at 8:42
    
I'm editing a psychiatry paper now that's filled with this kind of style choice: eg, "Except for having negative illness perceptions", which I've changed to "Except for having negative perceptions of the illness". Strictly style: the prepositional phrase sounds better to my ear. I'd offer more examples, but I don't want to bore anyone. –  user21497 Dec 28 '12 at 8:45
    
Only an extensive corpus search would be able to show us one way or the other. –  Barrie England Dec 28 '12 at 8:53
    
I've edited and read thousands of biomedical articles over the past 15 years. The corpus in my head tells me about biomedical usage. I haven't read as much in other technical fields, but I have read extensively in philosophy, intellectual history, sociology, anthropology, and literary criticism, & believe that the usage trends there are similar. Legal writing, which is even more like polyester prose than Rod McKuen's PVC poetry is, is another matter altogether. –  user21497 Dec 28 '12 at 9:12
    
@BillFranke What's polyester prose? Is it like beige prose? –  Andrew Grimm Dec 29 '12 at 8:01

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