NYT's use of 'illegal immigrant' fell in 2013

The New York Times has opened Alexis Lloyd's Chronicle tool to the public. Chronicle elegantly visualizes how often words and terms have appeared in the Times since 1851.

As an example, here's how Lincoln, Roosevelt and Clinton came in and out of the news over the last 160+ years:


The tool is also handy for tracking language and style changes over time. Here's a graph of the terms "illegal immigrant" and "undocumented":


Last year, use of "undocumented" spiked and use of "illegal immigrant" fell sharply. That correlates with the Times' April 2013 decision to tweak its style on the term "illegal immigrant."

At the time, Associate Managing Editor for Standards Philip Corbett said some people "view the term as loaded or offensive.” Meanwhile, Corbett wrote, "undocumented" is "preferred by many immigrants and their advocates, but it has a flavor of euphemism and should be used with caution outside quotations." It seems to have become more common in the Times anyway.

Of course, words that appear in the Times are not just reflective of terminology chosen by reporters and editors, but also of word choices by sources.

Democrats in Congress ramped up their use of "climate change" in 2013, according to FiveThirtyEight. In the Times, "climate change" has surpassed "global warming" in recent years despite a Yale study that found Americans hear and use the term "global warming" much more than "climate change":


BuzzFeed's Katie Notopoulos looked at more terms with Chronicle, including "millionaire" vs. "billionaire" and "Wal-Mart" vs. "Amazon."

  • Sam Kirkland

    Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor, where he helped launch digital magazines and ebooks in addition to other web duties.


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