Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Eugene Volokh is appalled at this email, "asking technology vendors to refrain from using the terms 'master' or 'slave' to refer to interrelating parts -- for example, a 'master' hard drive controlling a 'slave' client device", referred by BoingBoing:
The County of Los Angeles actively promotes and is committed to ensure a work environment that is free from any discriminatory influence be it actual or perceived. As such, it is the County's expectation that our manufacturers, suppliers and contractors make a concentrated effort to ensure that any equipment, supplies or services that are provided to County departments do not possess or portray an image that may be construed as offensive or defamatory in nature.
One such recent example included the manufacturer's labeling of equipment where the words ''Master/Slave'' appeared to identify the primary and secondary sources. Based on the cultural diversity and sensitivity of Los Angeles County, this is not an acceptable identification label. We would request that each manufacturer, supplier and contractor review, identify and remove/change any identification or labeling of equipment or components thereof that could be interpreted as discriminatory or offensive in nature before such equipment is sold or otherwise provided to any County department.
BoingBoing thinks this is a hoot:
Perhaps Dom/Sub/Switch would be more apropos. Talk SCSI to me, baby: who's your (hard drive's) daddy? ... God forbid anyone should tip the county off to interlocking male/female connectors.
Well. BoingBoing's take on it was that LA County was defending the sensibilities of BDSM practitioners. This is possible, but my first reaction to it was that it had to do with descendants of actual slaves, who may not find the whimsical appropriation of the words "master" and "slave" to be so amusing. Now, Eugene, BoingBoing and I are all quite familiar with the technical usage of master/slave, and to us they've lost their original connotations. (In fact, I notice that Eugene's case examples are from the world of sexual harassment, not racial issues, leading me to wonder if that connection slipped by him.) But those connotations can come back at you, especially when somebody new hears them, which I would guess was the case here. Obviously it's not going to be practical to change an industry-wide naming convention, but maybe the writer of the email didn't realize how big an issue s/he was getting into, and thought it was just some joker at one manufacturer who was using those terms; in which case, well, not so stupid. (Ignorant, but not stupid.)
And BoingBoing's cute remark about male/female connectors only has to bend a little to suggest some imaginary cases where it might be worth questioning long-standing technical terms. If those connectors were routinely called "rapist" plugs and "rapee" sockets, I certainly wouldn't laugh off someone who complained about it -- but then, that's not a very plausible situation, exactly because the terms would be obviously offensive. If there are actual black Americans who bristle at master/slave, the same way I think we'd all bristle at rapist/rapee, I'm not going to mock.