The Grammarphobia Blog

Home invasion

Q: I was wondering why newscasters (mostly) have begun using the term “home invasion.” Why isn’t it called a “break-in” any longer?

A: The phrase “home invasion” isn’t just another way of saying  “burglary” or “break-in.”

A “burglary” or a “break-in” refers to the act of entering a building with the intent to commit a crime. This crime can be committed when nobody’s home.

But in a “home invasion,” the house is occupied at the time. And often it involves the use of weapons and some kind of assault on the residents.

Several states have legally defined the crime of “home invasion,” though the definitions of the crime and its severity (first degree, second degree, and so on) vary.

The expression has been in use since 1973, according to citations in the Oxford English Dictionary. It originated in the US and is chiefly used in North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

The OED defines “home invasion” as “an act of entering a private dwelling while it is occupied, with the intention of committing a crime (usually burglary, often while threatening the resident); the action or offence of doing this.”

In the US, Australia, and New Zealand, the dictionary adds, “home invasion is a legally defined offence. Entry need not be forced, and may even be under invitation, if the offender later remains on the premises when requested by the resident to leave.”

The OED’s first citation for the use of the term is from a 1973 article in the Chicago Sun-Times: “Wilmette police were seeking the robbers in an apparently unrelated home invasion that occurred early Thursday.”

The phrase, as you’ve noticed, is becoming more widely used in the media these days.

For example, we found a news report from KFDM-TV in southeast Texas about armed men who broke into a home, locked the family in a laundry room, ransacked the house, and stole a car.

The report begins, “A home invasion has disturbed the peace in a West Beaumont neighborhood.” It ends with “If you have any information about the home invasion, call ….”

We hope this answers your question. And keep your door locked!

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