Entries linking to unsafe
prefix of negation, Old English un-, from Proto-Germanic *un- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Old High German, German un-, Gothic un-, Dutch on-), from PIE *n- (source of Sanskrit a-, an- "not," Greek a-, an-, Old Irish an-, Latin in-), combining form of PIE root *ne- "not." Often euphemistic (such as untruth for "lie").
The most prolific of English prefixes, freely and widely used in Old English, where it forms more than 1,000 compounds. It underwent a mass extinction in early Middle English, but emerged with renewed vigor 16c. to form compounds with native and imported words. It disputes with Latin-derived cognate in- (1) the right to form the negation of certain words (indigestable/undigestable, etc.), and though both might be deployed in cooperation to indicate shades of meaning (unfamous/infamous), typically they are not.
It also makes words from phrases (such as uncalled-for, c. 1600; undreamed-of, 1630s; uncome-at-able, 1690s; unputdownable, 1947, of a book; un-in-one-breath-utterable, Ben Jonson; etc., but the habit is not restricted to un-; such as put-up-able-with, 1812). As a prefix in telegramese to replace not and save the cost of a word, it is attested by 1936.
c. 1300, sauf, "unscathed, unhurt, uninjured; free from danger or molestation, in safety, secure; saved spiritually, redeemed, not damned;" from Old French sauf "protected, watched-over; assured of salvation," from Latin salvus "uninjured, in good health, safe," which is related to salus "good health," saluber "healthful" (all from PIE *solwos from root *sol- "whole, well-kept"). For the phonological development of safe from sauf, OED compares gage from Old North French gauge.
From late 14c. as "rescued, delivered; protected; left alive, unkilled." The meaning "not exposed to danger" (of places, later of valuables) is attested from late 14c.; in reference to actions, etc., the meaning "free from risk," is recorded by 1580s. The sense of "sure, reliable, not a danger" is from c. 1600. The sense of "conservative, cautious" is from 1823. It has been paired alliteratively with sound (adj.) from c. 1300. In Middle English it also meant "in good health," also "delivered from sin or damnation." Related: Safeness.