Re: Political Correctness (Was Re: Master/Slave)

Subject: Re: Political Correctness (Was Re: Master/Slave)
From: Jeff Hanvey <jewahe -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net, techwr-l <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 15 May 2000 11:09:22 -0700 (PDT)

> We are not going to resolve this here and now; and
> blanket generalizations won't work, either.

Very true...I'm not trying to come up with a blanket
generalization. There are times when the standard
language in field has to change. I didn't include this
in my original post because it seemed obvious. Let me
clarify using your example:

> Back when "the phone company" had only one referent,
> installers were given a mnemonic to remember the
> color coding of all the twisted pairs of wire.
> Installers were men. Period. The mnemonic consisted
> of a string of obscenities that were presumed to be
> inoffensive to men but offensive to women. When, in
> the settlement of a lawsuit, the first women
> installers were hired, the entire
> industry--installers, instructors, technical
> writers--had to adopt a new mnemonic. "The standard
> language in the field" sometimes has to change to
> accommodate newly raised consciousness.

Since this mnemonic contained obscenities, it was a
deliberately offensive and completely inappropriate to
the context, regardless of how "inoffensive" it was to
the men who coined it. They knew when they developed
it that this mnemonic directly belitted a particular

That's the difference between the mnemonic and
"master/slave." Does "master/slave" directly refer to
a class of people and deliberately belittle them? No,
it merely states a relationship between two devices.

It's the same for male/female pipe fittings. Despite
these terms'crass comparision to anatomy, no one can
deny that they accurately describe these particular
items. Again, they do not belittle either males or

I think that when you do use a standard term, you
should be aware of this aspect. Does a term contain a
deliberate attempt to belittle another group? If so,
it is inappropriate. If it is not particularly
directed at some group/person/whatever, then it should
be okay to use.

> Such egregious examples may or may not still be
> present, but as we get better at serving an
> international, cross-cultural market with an
> increasingly diverse workforce, we need at least to
> be aware that such situations arise from time to
> time and that sometimes we need to adapt.

All writers have to be adaptable. And sometimes we can
point out the danger of using certain expressions. But
only when those expressions are used to subordinate a
particular group. Discarding terms because of the
*fear* of offending someone is ridiculous and leads to
overly-sanitized, redundant, or long-winded documents
- and ultimately defeats the very purpose of the tech
writer: creating understandable, readable documents.

Jeff Hanvey
Memphis, TN

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