I am currently writing a paper and am kind of struggling with the corrections my co-writer did on my sections (he is the main author and I only had to write a few chapters).

There is a phrase in here that is odd to me, please tell me if that is something you can, at least in principle do:

"Tow-dimensional histograms harboured two main clusters ...".

Can you use harbour in this context ?

  • Welcome to EL&U. One of the expectations of Stack Exchange is that you demonstrate your initial efforts at research, such as checking a dictionary for definitions with which you may not be familiar. This use of harboured seems reasonable to me. I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance.
    – choster
    May 9, 2020 at 19:17
  • 1
    What did it say before? What is the context? May 9, 2020 at 19:42
  • @choster Well I did of course search for this but could not find any example in which harbour was used as a verb together with inanimate objects. That is what initially made me wonder, besides the fact that this just sounds strange to me. May 9, 2020 at 20:12
  • @JasonBassford Regarding the context: The sentence is supposed to say something about clusters in a plot. Meaning if you look at this referenced illustration there will be two prominent "spots", catching your eye. I hope this description helps. May 9, 2020 at 20:13

2 Answers 2


The verb to harbor (using the American spelling):

transitive verb.

1a : to give shelter or refuge to harboring a fugitive.

b : to be the home or habitat of

The ledges still harbor rattlesnakes. broadly : contain

a town that harbors several textile factories.

2 : to hold especially persistently in the mind : cherish harbored a grudge.

| Definition of Harbor by Merriam-Webster

definition here

The general definition, contain (as a town might contain factories) covers the sense in which the author has used it.

  • "a town that harbors several textile factories." Okay, thanks. May 10, 2020 at 15:55

No, you can't; the apparent metaphorical connotations of this verb include specifically the idea that what is contained has the ability to develop. The OALD gives for instance the following definition and example.

(OALD ) 3 to contain something and allow it to develop.

  • Your dishcloth can harbour many germs.

Basically, you can say that the histogram shows two main clusters.

  • 2
    The idea that something may develop is only one possible metaphorical use of this verb, and not the most common.
    – Xanne
    May 9, 2020 at 19:31
  • @Xanne Well, my answer is not fundamentally wrong: you find in the SOED "Now freq. give secret refuge to (a wanted criminal, a noxious animal, etc.)
    – LPH
    May 9, 2020 at 19:43
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    Your answer of no, you can't is fundamentally wrong. You're taking one specific sense of the word and turning it into a prohibitive generalization. May 9, 2020 at 19:46
  • @JasonBassford Can you give refuge (secret) to a sentence? Highly poetical, for the least!
    – LPH
    May 9, 2020 at 19:48

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