from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A large net for catching one that falls or jumps, as from a circus trapeze.
  • n. A guarantee, as of professional, physical, or financial security: the safety net of a generous pension plan.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A large net placed horizontally beneath performing aerialists such as trapeze artists or tightrope walkers, intended to catch a performer who falls and to protect him or her from harm.
  • n. Anything, such as a governmental program, that provides security against extreme disadvantage or misfortune.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a guarantee of professional or financial security
  • n. a large strong net to catch circus acrobats who fall or jump from a trapeze


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    Sorry, no example sentences found.


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  • “We've had the safety net programs a lot longer than we've had the term,” says Guian McKee, a historian at the University of Virginia.

    McKee trawled through newspaper archives to see when the phrase “safety net” first started showing up to describe government social programs. The first reference he could find was in 1966, in a New York Times article about the New York Governor’s race. One of the candidates used the phrase to describe his approach to social spending, saying “public assistance will be envisaged as a safety net on the one hand, and as a transmission belt to productive employment on the other.”

    Ironically, the candidate who said it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr., FDR’s son.

    But the “safety net” still didn't really become a household term in the way we know it now, for another fifteen years.

    February 18, 1981 to be exact, in President Ronald Reagan's first speech to Congress. He was in the midst of laying out big and controversial federal spending cuts he wanted to make,

    * * *

    “All those with true need can rest assured that the social safety net of programs they depend on are exempt from any cuts,” he said. Then he went on, “But government will not continue to subsidize individuals or business interests where real need cannot be demonstrated.”

    And in those two sentences, Reagan popularized a vivid metaphor for government assistance, while at the same time redefining who deserved it.

    Krissy Clark, How did the social safety net get its name?, Marketplace, April 2, 2013.

    January 29, 2017