Media

Graphing the Words in the News Over Time

By Will H. Moore

Last week, The New York Times made public a fun tool, Chronicle, that makes it easy for anyone to graph the number of times a word was published in the Times since 1850. Alexis Lloyd created it, and she introduces it here. I think it is interesting that she chose an interstate war example, which I reproduce below, to illustrate its usage. We can see that “World War I” was not used much at all prior to 1940.

Source: http://chronicle.nytlabs.com/?keyword=Great%20War.World%20War%20I

Source: http://chronicle.nytlabs.com/?keyword=Great%20War.World%20War%20I

The Upshot also wrote an article, and they selected the word “insurgent.” Thus, the topic of this blog is apparently a focal point for interesting ways to illustrate word usage in news coverage.

I was interested in tracking several words that the research and reading I have done during my career has led me to note that government officials use to describe “dissidents.” So I plugged the words “bandits,” “communists,” “guerrillas,” “insurgents,” “rebels,” and “terrorists” into Chronicle and produced the graph below.

Source: http://chronicle.nytlabs.com/?keyword=bandits.communists.guerrillas.insurgents.rebels.terrorists&format=count

Source: http://chronicle.nytlabs.com/?keyword=bandits.communists.guerrillas.insurgents.rebels.terrorists&format=count

We see that the US Civil War produced an enormous use of the word “rebels,” and though the count today is a much smaller percentage of the total number of words published in the Times,[1] we see that “rebels” grew dramatically in prominence in 2011. “Communists” first appears around 1918, and then explodes after 1945. The impact of 9/11 upon the word “terrorists” is equally prominent.

One can readily imagine ways to improve the search: permit the selection of years; allow “and” / “or” (Boolean searches); permit users to exclude words. But as is, Chronicle is a fun tool that permits quick searches by the public of a very rich database: The New York Times. I encourage you to play around with it some.

[1] Chronicle permits the user to choose whether to create a graph of the number of times a word appeared during a year, or the percentage that word represents of all words published during that year. The first graph above uses percentage, but the second is the raw count.

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