RE: Master/Slave

Subject: RE: Master/Slave
From: Max Wyss <prodok -at- prodok -dot- ch>
To: Emru Townsend <etownsen -at- Softimage -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 16 May 2000 00:14:09 +0200


Technical writing must use the terminology used and understood by the
actual users of the document. It also must use the exact terms for given
facts, used in that particular industry. These terms have a very specific
meaning, and that meaning is clear to anyone who is actually using the

So, using an unusual term is one of the biggest sins one can do as
technical writer.

The big problem when using "alternative" terms is that they might have a
totally different meaning in that certain field, and then one ends up with
a potentially hazardous situation.

In short, using "alternative" terms in technical writing can be dangerous.
"Political correctness" has nothing lost in technical writing when it comes
to terminology. When a technical writer has problems with the terminology,
a change of industry might be worth considering. In that case, I suggest to
not go for industries having a long history, as one might find very
"offensive" terminology there.

Just my Zweiräppler.

Max Wyss
PRODOK Engineering
Low Paper workflows, Smart documents, PDF forms
CH-8906 Bonstetten, Switzerland

Fax: +41 1 700 20 37
e-mail: mailto:prodok -at- prodok -dot- ch

[ Building Bridges for Information ]


There's a tendency to lump "political correctness" as a monolithic entity,
where all of its practitioners think the same way and want the same things.
Accordingly, there's also a tendency to dehumanize the people behind the
sentiments. Let me add a personal element to this discussion.

Every time I open a manual and I see a reference to a master/slave
relationship, I feel a strange little twinge. I can't explain it, but it's
there. The thing is, I'm not one of those people who's easily set off by
"offensive" terms. I'm not even offended by it (or at least not in the
sense that many people think of when they discuss sensitive terminology). I
preach observing context and intent all the time. But something about that
term just makes me feel funny. When I'm writing, I use an alternate term if
it's possible to do so and remain clear. When it's not possible, I stick
with "master/slave." It's not that hard.

What people see as political correctness is really just a matter of thinking
about your audience. If you can avoid making people feel that discomfort
_and_ get your meaning across clearly, then why not?

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