Re: Pet Peeves

Subject: Re: Pet Peeves
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- westnet -dot- com -dot- au>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2007 11:08:55 +0900

Several people in this thread have said it's all about precise
communication, the right word for the job, etc. Yet it seems to me
there's more at work than cool, rational, emotion-free technical writing.

To give one example, in discussions of master/slave terminology, it's
taken as a given that these are the best technical terms to use, and
it's just a question of how we as individual writers weigh up the
possibility of offending some readers against the loss of precision
involved in using other terms.

Whatever you think about slavery (and personally, I'm totally opposed to
it) surely it's a poor metaphor in most of the IT and engineering
settings in which it's used. What is there about the relationship
between disk drives that makes master/slave a fruitful or descriptive or
precise metaphor?

I can accept that in some cases the terminology is so old that
unilaterally changing it would cause mass confusion (e.g. master/slave
cylinders in car engines). Yet I've seen these terms applied
inappropriately in new products, simply because it saved 5 minutes
compared with thinking up something more accurate and descriptive. For
example, if one host has been designated the master, it's inevitable
that other hosts that aren't the master will be called slave hosts, even
though there's nothing 'slavelike' about their relationship and even if
it's easy to think of better terms.

I've seen developers get quite impatient or defensive about retaining
this sort of terminology. To be honest, I think the 'anti-PC' feeling is
so strong that some people would rather choose imprecise terms than feel
that they're backing down to Geoff's "arrogant PC bunch". This happens
even when there's not much invested in the decision.


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