The attention this week to the domestic abuse case involving Ray Rice, a star running back who was fired by the N.F.L.'s Baltimore Ravens, reinforces a fairly recent trend: an increase in the phrase “domestic violence” in publications, including The New York Times.

Chronicle, the online tool from The Times Research and Development Lab, shows that “domestic violence” has always appeared in Times articles, but that its use substantially increased only recently, from 188 articles in 1990, when congressional hearings were held on the issue, to more than 1,000 last year. Those articles represent a tiny fraction of all Times articles, but occurrences of the phrase soared in 2011, including in coverage of the murder trial of Barbara Sheehan, a Queens school secretary who shot her husband and was acquitted of murder.

Recent Rise in Domestic Violence Mentions

The term “domestic violence” has appeared in The New York Times throughout its history, but until the 1980s it mostly referred to civil unrest and rioting rather than acts of violence in the home. Its usage has spiked since 2010.

Number of articles mentioning “domestic violence” in The New York Times, by year.
1,000
800
600
400
200
0
959
1860
1880
1900
1920
1940
1960
1980
2000
2014
Number of articles mentioning “domestic violence” in The New York Times, by year.
1,000
800
600
400
200
0
959
1900
1950
2014

The rise of the phrase “domestic violence” in The Times roughly mirrors that in Google Books’s Ngram Viewer, which charts the prevalence of words and phrases in books over time. The phrase begins its upward climb during the 1990s, just before the similarly shaped rise in The Times.

But there’s another wrinkle here: Before the 1980s, “domestic violence” in The Times routinely referred to civil unrest such as urban riots, rather than abuse within a family. In 1894, for example, articles mentioning the phrase were about the government’s response to striking miners and railroad workers. That usage persisted through the 1970s. Other phrases, including “wife-beating” and “domestic abuse,” have been used by The Times for decades, with a small increase for both in recent years.

Continue reading the main story