back to article Python joins movement to dump 'offensive' master, slave terms

Python creator Guido van Rossum retired as "benevolent dictator for life" in July, but like Michael Corleone in The Godfather III, he's been pulled back in to resolve a debate about politically incorrect language. Like other open source communities, Python's minders have been asked whether they really want to continue using …

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  1. Lee D Silver badge

    I tend to find that when an organisation reaches the point where such things become a consideration rather than, say, concentrating on achieving the product/service they provide, that's the point where things start to go downhill.

    People literally have too much time on their hands if they care about a terminology such as this. What next, blacklist/whitelist being racist? Male/female connectors not including an intersex variant?

    Just code the damn thing, nobody's actually bothering to writing code that's both functional and yet subtly racist

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      There are lots of hermaphrodite connectors available (e.g. Anderson Power Pole) though perhaps not for higher frequencies.

      I just hope this effort is a precursor to some decent laws to protect artificial intelligences from abuse.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I had to change the terms whitelist and blacklist from an internal server-side application over 15 years ago. Management concern was that if there was an error the message could have been seen by customers and could have caused offence.

      I thought it was silly but NBD, I changed it to redlist and greenlist and carried on.

      The thing is, they’re only words, but if someone doesn’t like them, find some different words. “Primary” and “secondary”, or whatever, carries the intent just as well.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        " “Primary” and “secondary”, or whatever, carries the intent just as well."

        Primary and secondary doesn't do that. Perhaps "controller" and "controllee"?

        Personally, I think this is a stupid non-issue to raise any kind of fuss about. In the end, though, as a stupid non-issue, it's no more intelligent to fight against changing the terms. My only concern is that whatever terms replace it are both correct and don't coopt a technical term used for similar, but different, purposes, thus causing confusion.

        Master/slave has the advantage of being very clear and well-established, eliminating confusion.

        1. LDS Silver badge
          Devil

          Perhaps "controller" and "controllee"?

          "Boss" and "underling" conveys better the meaning.

          Anyway, I find the term "parent" not adequate for those who had abusive parents, have lost them young, or have been abandoned. It's also painful for those who can't have children and thereby can't become parents. Moreover a parent\child relationship has already a clear and different meaning, especially in OOP.

          "Worker" may not be good for the far-right, always fearful that workers of the world could unite, size the production servers and create a cloudkhoz. And a worker, unlike a slave, has to be paid and may want a pension when it's garbage collected.

          "Leader" and "follower" has also bad connotations - who want to be a "follower"? Do you imply my code lacks "leadership"?

          "Primary" and "replica" have a different meaning than master/slave. "Replica" is usually passive only. Even "primary" and "secondary" have a different meaning - it's a less strong relationship.

          Maybe "Lord" and "Vassal"? Just, vassals were not always reliable.

          But maybe, for Python, "Scrooge McDuck" and "Donald Duck"- with duck typing, it looks good.

          Albeit, I have issue with the Python name itself, some people are really afraid of reptiles. If it quacks, it's a duck.

          The good thing is that with each language and framework using different terms, people will understand even less how to write such kind of code, and quality will become even worse.

          But the Newspeak attempts will have reached their goal to hide actual, real slavery.

        2. xanda
          Alert

          Hold on a moment...

          "it's no more intelligent to fight against changing the terms."

          The 'terms' don't change in or of themselves - it is people who ascribe the meaning. For example, the word "gay" didn't assume it's current cultural meaning all by itself - the meaning has been artificially imposed over years.

          That raises the question of who gets to define the meaning and who gets to impose it.

          The issue thus becomes one more important than that of transient semantics or mere practicality. It is one of both freedom of speech and the imposition of authority aka dictatorship.

          Like so many other words in the English vocabulary, the word slave has more than one meaning; indeed it's original root has been applied to various different scenarios over time. This does mean that the meaning is largely contextual and so ascribing too much value to an alternate one denigrates the beauty and power of language.

          Again this is a problem, both in principle and practice.

          In principle it means that certain quarters will seek to establish themselves as the word/thought police, as indeed they are already doing.

          In practice it means that the 'innocent will anguish over the innocuous' as well as a ton or more of unnecessary work in changing code, reprinting signs and other tangible material - all at great cost.

          It can therefore not simply be ignored or adhered to as if to go with the flow.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hold on a moment...

            what you're describing is the everchanging semantics in language. its a constant battle between the progressives who are willing to modify words to convey new and better meanings and the regressives who cling on to their old definitions, scared their world view will collapse because words are changing around them.

            you've implied that the desire to change language is authoritarian - that's true only if it comes with a real penalty ("omg i cant say the word i used to say cos people will be offended", isnt a penatly, it's petulance). if anything it's the desire to preserve language that's authoritarian as it prevents us from expanding the vocabulary and refining the syntax. its also regressive and fundamentally against the natural human instinct to evolve and discover.

            long story short. Master and Slave are just words. Words which have no more value in their meaning for ATA connected devices on a mother board and no less value when describing treating people as property.

            they're just words - don't cling onto them so dearly because the next generation will be changing them anyway.

            1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

              Re: Hold on a moment...

              Main/Subsidiary? Then PCBs can still be labelled M and S.

            2. holmegm

              Re: Hold on a moment...

              "they're just words - don't cling onto them so dearly because the next generation will be changing them anyway."

              What if the next generation *doesn't* change them? Does throw a wrench in that frisson of superiority?

              "its a constant battle between the progressives who are willing to modify words to convey new and better meanings and the regressives who cling on to their old definitions,"

              In any case, what is new and better here? How is insisting upon different words to describe the *same* controller -> controlled relationship "better"?

        3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "My only concern is that whatever terms replace it are both correct and don't coopt a technical term used for similar, but different, purposes, thus causing confusion."

          The thing is, master and slave have an accepted meaning and are (or have been) used extensively in many situations for many, many years. What is happening now is that master and slave are being replaced by everyones own idea of some new, vaguely similar terms instead of looking at what other have done re-using the same new terms. Everyone deciding to change from master/slave is inventing their own wheel. Meanwhile, marketing have probably set up a committee to consider what colour it should be.

        4. jj_0

          Master and Servant? Saves 50% of the find/replace.

      2. -tim

        "I had to change the terms whitelist and blacklist from an internal server-side application over 15 years ago. [...] I thought it was silly but NBD, I changed it to redlist and greenlist and carried on."

        So now your going to upset the Indians and the Hippies?

        1. BongoJoe

          What about upsetting those with colour blindness?

        2. Stevie Silver badge

          So now your going to upset the Indians and the Hippies?

          First Nations and Hippies.

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: So now your going to upset the Indians and the Hippies?

            First Nations and Persons Of Restricted Hygiene.

            1. onefang Silver badge

              Re: So now your going to upset the Indians and the Hippies?

              "First Nations and Persons Of Restricted Hygiene."

              I think you'll find the hippies have more hygiene options than others. They can choose not to wash, or to wash.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > I changed it to redlist and greenlist and carried on.

        What was the redhead reaction to redlist error messages?

        1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

          Who cares, they don't have a soul.

          edit: redheads, that is

      4. Mark 85 Silver badge

        “Primary” and “secondary”, or whatever, carries the intent just as well.

        Nah. Go with "Boss" and "Lackey". Or "PHB" and "Contractor".

      5. JuJuBalt

        Now you are discriminating against communists and the Irish.

    3. malle-herbert Silver badge
      Trollface

      Just call 'em "Slaster" and "Mave"...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @malle-herbert

        Or wife and husband.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: @malle-herbert

          "Or wife and husband"

          But which one is in charge there? Men seem to think it is the wife, women seem to think it is the husband. but shouldn't be.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @malle-herbert

            ""Or wife and husband"

            But which one is in charge there? Men seem to think it is the wife, women seem to think it is the husband. but shouldn't be."

            Husbands think they are in charge. Wives allow them that delusion :)

            1. Stevie Silver badge

              Re: But which one is in charge there?

              "Man is the master, and a woman's place is in the home!"

              Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Dec).

        2. snoggs

          Re: @malle-herbert

          Party of the first part/party of the second part?

        3. bpfh

          Re: @malle-herbert

          I find this offensive as it implies a patriarchal notion of the superiority of the male. And what about same sex couples? Maybe my databases and databasettes want to fornic... replicate between themselves in peace and equality... /sarcasm

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I'd call them PHB and codemonkey.

      3. illiad

        how about 'boss' , 'employee'

        1. Mycho Silver badge

          Overlord/Minion

          Ultimately some people will discover the etymology of minion and we'll go through this all again.

          For those who don't know, it's from the French for cute and was coined to get an accusation of ... 'servicing your employer' past the censors.

          Same as Gunsel in fact.

    4. billdehaan

      The most common description of this behaviour is "Get woke, go broke".

      It's not whether it's a consideration, it's usually when it becomes the consideration, that things go to hell rapidly.

      When you're more concerned about offending people than you are about making a good product, it's a losing game. Unless you're an ass, you're not trying to offend people in the first place. And if you do so through ignorance, most people aren't going to be upset.

      The people who are upset are the types who get upset by everything. When you see complaints that eating salad is racist, wearing earrings mean you support enslavement of Africans, braiding your hair is a signal that you're a white supremacist, going to a wedding means you think women should be oppressed, etc., you're dealing with people who aren't playing with a full deck.

      There are real issues with racism and sexism in the world. Fretting about technical terminology isn't going to change them in the slightest. There are better things to spend time and energy on.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "When you're more concerned about offending people than you are about making a good product, it's a losing game."

        what if the criteria for 'making a good product' included the requirement that it 'didn't offend people'? for products and services to cater to their market they should have a broad appeal. that means using the kind of language that doesnt alienate or offend whilst maintaining enough semantic capital so that we all know what we're talking about.

        tldr; you don't lose by being nice.

    5. Troutdog

      I could not agree more

      There are potentially hundreds of triggers in python. Perhaps the interpreter should explicitly barf on offensive terms used as variable names to prevent users from creating insensitive code. The parser could compare all variable and function names against a blacklist (oops, I meant a condemned word list). Of course, such a list would itself be offensive, so would need to be obscured so that no fragile developers would stumble across it accidentally. Probably best to just ban any recognizable words as a precaution.

      Also: Token ring used hermaphroditic connectors at one time. There is a concrete example of another sex.

      1. jibbly_biskits

        Re: I could not agree more

        In your post, you used the word "condemned". That's offensive to inmates on death row. I couldn't ignore the fact that you also casually used the word "token", which is racist. I'm definitely not in love with the word 'interpreter' as this could trigger any monoglots reading your post.

        1. Mr Humbug

          Would everyone please stop using trigger as a verb.

          Signed,

          An offended pedant

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            So, what verb should I use for the action that occurs when the interupt line changes state and the processor redirects execution away from the mainline code?

          2. Stevie Silver badge

            Would everyone please stop using trigger as a verb. (4 Mr Humbug)

            Good enough for the UXB teams in WWII, good enough for me.

            Expel it forcefully from your anterior dorsal orifice.

      2. onefang Silver badge

        Re: I could not agree more

        "(oops, I meant a condemned word list)"

        Surely that's offensive to people awaiting execution?

        And surely this comment is offensive to people called Shirley?

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: I could not agree more

          I have a problem with model / view and.... argh "controlller" ? !!!

          Please, take me to my safe space. Now. Please. I think I'm going to have a meltdown. And have the police meet me there, I wish to make a complaint.

          1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

            Re: I could not agree more

            What about BOFH / Luser? Totally clear to anyone in IT (or should be)

          2. MudFever

            Re: I could not agree more

            @werdsmith, sorry, but you can't use "my safe space" because it requires segregation, elitism and discrimination.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I could not agree more

        "(oops, I meant a condemned word list)."

        Sorry, condemned is on the banned list as it might imply that you support the death penalty. I suspect banned might be banned soon as that implies an inherent censorship, and that can;t be right, can it?

        1. onefang Silver badge

          Re: I could not agree more

          "Sorry, condemned is on the banned list as it might imply that you support the death penalty. I suspect banned might be banned soon as that implies an inherent censorship, and that can;t be right, can it?"

          Differently-visible?

      4. Martijn Otto
        Trollface

        Re: I could not agree more

        Perhaps we can make this list by hashing al the ungood words and then having the runtime hash all the variable and function names and comparing them against this list.

    6. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      that's the point where things start to go downhill.

      ack on the 'downhill'. P.C. and 'hurt feelings' don't belong in tech.

      But if they don't like master/slave, how about:

      a) dominant / submissive

      b) sadist / masochist

      c) Tori / Uke (Judo terms. Judo.)

      d) Giver / Goatse

      e) Boss / You

      f) Microsoft / Everyone Else

      and so on. heh.

      1. ratfox Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: that's the point where things start to go downhill.

        Master / Minion !

        1. Schultz

          I second master / minion

          How to better fix a culturally loaded term than to substitute it with a flimsy cultural reference?

          1. Oliver Kiddle

            Re: I second master / minion

            On technical things, where the term "minion" is used, I'd expect there to be many minions and one master. With master/slave, it tends to imply one or few slaves. A "minion" also, sounds like a smaller component. If technical things get renamed you don't want to make them harder to understand. Now that I think about it "slave" is generally a poor analogy for the technical usage: slaves didn't sit around waiting while the master did all the work only stepping in when needed.

          2. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge
            Angel

            I vote for manager / engineer

            Now it's time to make the Holy Bible Politically Correct.

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: that's the point where things start to go downhill.

          yeah I'd actually done 'Overlord / Minion' a bit further down. great minds think alike though

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