For triggers, gates, clocks, and sociopaths alike, "Master/Slave" faces retirement

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I recall this issue in coding being debated on slashdot 15 years ago. I really had hoped it was settled then…

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Agree. I’m pleased my coding job is recently deciding to change whitelist/blacklist to just simply blocked and cleared.


“Slave” has never been a good word for this. “Follower” is a much better term, and widely in use to boot. I’m not sure about “Master”, but “Leader” is bad. “Head” or “Main” might be good for this.


I still have old IDE hard drives with jumpers labeled master and slave.

Not that I disagree with the idea of doing away with the terms.


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Jim Salter over at Ars Technica had an article recently where he pointed out that in a lot of situations, the answer is actually that different uses are actually different things and need different terms. So databases might have a primary and backup or secondary. Electronics buses might have “initiator” and “target”. Other uses might use “follower” or “dependent”.

MikeK Star’s example is a good example of a pointless and stupid use of master/slave – that is really just representing a 1-bit address. The two drives operate independently of each other and receive commands from the host controller. They don’t even talk to each other at all.

That’s not the primary reason to change of course, but it does undercut a lot of the reasons people claim to use to object to changing this naming.


I’d be fine with various mechanical usages of male and female disappearing too.


Kind of funny to consider those uses in audio production. You ‘master’ a recording for it to become authentic (before mastering it is not finished or taken legitimately) and of course ‘slave’ is everywhere in a recording studio signal chain, and leader tape is a strip of plastic in front of a reel.

Nothing really menacing there with either use, but once you consider how much these terms are passed around - giving authority to processes based on people being rulers over others - it’s oddly ubiquitous or subconscious seeming. More of a ‘huh’ moment than anything else, but worth talking about.


I didn’t know that. The use of master-as-in-mastering doesn’t bother me. Nor does Master’s degree, mastering a skill, etc. But I can’t think of an ok context of slave. And when master is used in conjunction with slave, yeah, that’s not good.

ETA: “But I can’t think of an ok context of slave.” I don’t mean to kink shame. Unless you’re into that. :wink:


Another adventure on the Euphemism Treadmill.

From Wikipedia (

Euphemisms frequently over time themselves become taboo words, through the linguistic process known as semantic change (specifically pejoration) described by W. V. O. Quine,[17] and more recently dubbed the “euphemism treadmill” by Harvard professor Steven Pinker.[18] For instance, toilet is an 18th-century euphemism, replacing the older euphemism house-of-office, which in turn replaced the even older euphemisms privy-house and bog-house.[19] The act of human defecation is possibly the most needy candidate for the euphemism in all eras. In the 20th century, where the old euphemisms lavatory (a place where one washes) or toilet (a place where one dresses[20]) had grown from long usage (e.g. in the United States) too synonymous with the crude act they sought to deflect, they were sometimes replaced with bathroom (a place where one bathes) washroom (a place where one washes) or restroom (a place where one rests) or even by the extreme form powder-room (a place where one applies facial cosmetics). The form water closet, which in turn became euphemised to W.C., is a less deflective form.

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In 3D modelling we use parent/child as the terminology of choice where you have one object that controls one or more other objects. I’ve also seen this in web design prototype tools. Is parent/child used in other tech areas? Would it be an acceptable substitute, or are these terms inherently different?


I don’t really see how that is relevant here. If anything, these are “reverse euphemisms” – using a word referring to a horrific and objectionable for something otherwise mundane and non-controversial.

Nobody here is saying we should start referring to human slavery as “a leader/follower relationship”

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I am probably the only one marching to different drums on this, but the whole problem seems really stretched to me to the point of becoming a joke, although a dangerous one. It’s not the words that hurt, it’s the context and how they were used; the master/slave concept is absolutely correct in electronics when a system/circuit can in fact be controlled by another one, and identifying connectors by their perceived sex is also 100% correct because we’re simply using ourselves as a measure of things (anyone ever used fingers to count numbers or the hand palm to measure something?).
Let’s ban the practices of slavery, sexism, discrimination, not their words or their memories.
Banning words, especially those that were never written with the purpose of hurting anyone, is just like burning books, just on a smaller scale, and my answer is no.

Here’s an old gem: the Politically Correct UNIX. Good for a laugh for sure, but try imagining the process applied to every other field of human knowledge.

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But Master Baiter shall still remain.

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Mid 90’s in college I was sitting in the CIS lab working on something or another. One of my classmates, Bob, came in and asked what he had missed in class that day. I gave him quick synopsis which included the term master and slave. A few minutes later we all heard him yelling no, no, No, No, NO, NOOOO. We walked over to see on his screen dozens of windows popping open with fairly graphic BDSM content as Bob frantically closed one and and five more opened.

Entertaining mistakes aside, there is no need to keep this terminology.

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Was saying this in another thread on bedroom’s (as the terminology in that was used by MIDI and people were stopping} that we’d switched to “innie” and “outie” years ago. This would be in mixed tech settings, computers and music/sound mostly, I don’t deal with video stuff. I was replied to that other people hadn’t heard the terms. They are kids words for your kind of bellybutton. I guess they took off so easily because they don’t need any explanation. Which one? An innie? What’s… Oh, yeah here. And it’s not gross. Unless you find belly buttons gross.

Which fair enough but we all have one and there’s no sexual/power hierarchy thing in it.


This (draft) IETF memo pretty convincingly argues for why this terminology should be deprecated, with citations and everything, and examples of how this terminology really does harm diversity in technical fields:

It’s not “banning words”, it’s considering the way the words we use are understood by the people with whom we’re communicating - which is what ultimately matters, more than the intention of the author.


Yeah apologies… I might have been too vague. By ‘settled then’ I meant ‘so damn obvious the industry would’ve changed and dropped this insane bullshit.’ Of course it didn’t and if I think about it for a split second I’m not surprised. But… well fuck…


Peter Kirn over at Create Digital Music has been writing about this also, most recently here:

For MIDI: in and out (like the hardware is labelled) it’s not something to get defensive about. Like we used to mock people bemoaning the word gay meaning what it does rather than what I am reliably informed it did.

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As an industry we have a lot of room for growth. :slight_smile: