RE: Replacing "master" and "slave" terminology

Subject: RE: Replacing "master" and "slave" terminology
From: "Combs, Richard" <richard -dot- combs -at- Polycom -dot- com>
To: "Karen Mulholland" <kemulholland -at- yahoo -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 10 Apr 2008 15:07:21 -0600

Karen, you've penned a thoughtful and humane response, and I appreciate
it. But I also can't resist offering some counterpoint.

> Richard, I understand and agree with your point - political
> correctness can stifle meaningful communication.
> But there's more to it than that. I can't speak for the
> engineer, but my own queasiness doesn't stem from either of
> the causes you suggest - your list of valid reasons for
> discomfort is incomplete.
> Partly I'm bothered because the terms "master" and "slave"
> seem unduly anthropomorphic.
> Partly it's that I know people, let's just stick
> with the anthropomorphism issue. ;-)

Do the terms "client" and "server" bother you, too? Or not so much?

> Leaving aside my own feelings, my coworker the engineer is
> uncomfortable with the term. It does not matter *why* he is
> uncomfortable with it. If he had an irrational phobia of the
> verb "configure", I'd be equally concerned with helping him
> find a synonym that didn't bother him.

I appreciate your consideration for the engineer, but what about your
audience? How much lack of clarity should they have to accept in order
to make the engineer more comfortable?

I realize these are judgment calls, and that someone who is both
rational and considerate (as you appear to be) will more than likely
strike a reasonable balance for a given set of circumstances. I just
want to point out that the colleague's irrational phobias can't be given
veto power. At some point, in some circumstance, one simply has to say
to him, "get over yourself." Or some more courteous variant thereof. ;-)

> This is not about political correctness; it's about
> responding to a colleague's stated discomfort, and using
> language that doesn't make people uncomfortable.
> It's not an abstract problem of "somebody somewhere may take
> offense"; it is a case of "this gentleman sitting in my
> office would rather use a different set of words in his own writing."

As John Hedtke suggested, if this guy's been an engineer for any length
of time, these terms surely aren't new to him. Ask him what terms he's
used before, and how well those were received by his audience.

> I do this job to help technical people communicate, and
> telling this engineer that his emotional response to these
> words isn't valid or should be disregarded doesn't strike me
> as a good way to do that.

A person's feelings are what they are and shouldn't be disregarded.
OTOH, they shouldn't have absolute power over that person and everyone
around him, either. Saying, "I appreciate how you feel and I'm sorry,
but making this clear to our readers is paramount" is not disregarding
his feelings -- it's regarding them in context.

> It can be a fine line between respecting people's feelings
> and being politically correct; I think the dividing line is
> where it stops being hypothetical. In this case I am striving
> for courtesy, not correctness.

I hypothetically agree. :-) But it's easy to focus on the person or
thing immediately in front of you and forget about the unseen others or
unintended consequences. You undoubtedly have obligations of courtesy,
correctness, and clarity to many more people than the gentleman in your
office. Don't forget them.

In addition, you owe the gentleman in your office more than courtesy,
you also owe him honesty -- and the respect that comes from being
treated as a mature adult to be reasoned with, and not a child to be


Richard G. Combs
Senior Technical Writer
Polycom, Inc.
richardDOTcombs AT polycomDOTcom
rgcombs AT gmailDOTcom


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RE: Replacing "master" and "slave" terminology: From: Karen Mulholland

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