The following paragraph is from the novel the Moon and Sixpence.

Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz belongs to that school of historians which believes that human nature is not only about as bad as it can be, but a great deal worse; and certainly the reader is safer of entertainment in their hands than in those of the writers who take a malicious pleasure in representing the great figures of romance as patterns of the domestic virtues.

I understand the italic part as the reader who reads the book of that kind of historians would feel more comfortable. But I don't get the of. There is no safe of in my English dictionaries and if it is binded to entertainment, a noun seems to be positioned in front of of.

What is that of?

  • 1
    It doesn't make sense to me. Looks like an error. Could it be a typo?
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 8, 2022 at 11:06
  • 2
    Old fashioned way of saying 'more likely to get entertainment from them'. Maugham was writing in 1919. Jun 8, 2022 at 11:09
  • What @MichaelHarvey said. But that superlative + preposition use is still relatively acceptable today with the near-synonymous surer rather than safer, as witness the many written instances of The writer [is surer of success [if he remembers that his primary purpose is to entertain the reader.] Jun 8, 2022 at 11:25
  • 1
    ...note that we still use that preposition today with near-synonymous ...assured of [some desired goal]. Jun 8, 2022 at 11:32

1 Answer 1


After Michael Harvey's hint in the comments, I had a look in the OED and found this entry:

safe, adj. (and int.)


a. With of. Sure to obtain. Now rare.

1538 M. Coverdale tr. M. Luther Expos. Magnificat sig. D.viii Such a God, as doth not despyse the poore, despysed & vyle, but wyteth them safe of hys owne syghte, that so hys harte be stablyshed in fayth, hope and charite.

?1614 G. Chapman tr. Homer Odysses iii. 36 Euery Myrmidon..safe of home.

1667 S. Pepys Diary 23 Aug. (1974) VIII. 398 I find most people pleased with their being at ease and safe of a peace.

1802 R. Southey La Caba 3 Here I stand, Safe of my purpose now!

1846 W. M. Thackeray Let. 9 Feb. (MS.) What I meant by ‘Safe’ is the best word to be applied to a play I think—safe of a real agreeable—of course I don't know how permanent—success.

1874 For Beauty's Sake ii. 25 He is safe of a warm welcome from me.

1911 P. H. Brown Hist. Scotl. I. iii. ii. 113 Macduff was not slow to carry his tale where he knew he was safe of a favourable hearing.

Source: "safe, adj. (and int.)". OED Online. March 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/169673?redirectedFrom=safer (accessed June 08, 2022).

Suffice to say it's so rare, I've never come across it before. You learn something new every day!

  • A good find! +1. Well done. Jun 8, 2022 at 11:34
  • 1
    I knew I had seen it in Pepys. Jun 8, 2022 at 11:35
  • @MichaelHarvey - yeah, thanks to you!! Anyway, it has a very distinct "old-fashioned" sound to it today. Amazing how language changes.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 8, 2022 at 11:36
  • 1
    When I was 14 my father gave me a book of Maugham's collected short stories, as he knew I liked older stuff. A pleasant style I still think. Jun 8, 2022 at 11:47
  • We didn't have 'young adult' books when I was a boy. I had a diet of my uncles' sci-fi mags and paperback novels, plus Dickens, HG Wells, Maugham, DH Lawrence, etc. Plus much stuff you would call rubbish these days. Jun 8, 2022 at 11:50

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