Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
rolodato 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite

An interesting other side of the coin here: Emily Wilson, in her recent translation of The Odyssey made it a point to call the slaves in Odysseus' house slaves. In other translations, this idea was glossed over, the people called different things, avoiding the term. Wilson instead aimed to stay truer to the culture the work was written in, rather than appealing to contemporary ideals, or what have you.

It makes sense, though, with this context as well. The issue at hand is calling things what they in fact are. In the Odyssey, there is a source text and culture, where persons who were slaves were called such. In codebases, however, we are working with abstract concepts in the first. There is no necessary historical reason to maintain certain language. Abstract concepts are such because they do not exist out in the world, and so have no "actual" name.

Some words are created to do intentional harm to others. Others simply have two meanings, one innocuous in its usage another, derogatory to some group of people. The mariam webster dictionary recognizes the word slave as: a device (such as the printer of a computer) that is directly responsive to another.

source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/slave

I think what you're missing here is that it was first in the computer sense used in a time when all this discussion hadn't happen yet. So one the one hand, you're correct, it has this meaning. But there was a time where "negro" was a word with a neutral (to a certain kind of people) meaning - just look up any newspaper from a hundred years ago. So even if we're not having the discussion if the term is appropriate or not (not my point right now) - you're arguing with a tautology. As words can enter "standard" dictionaries, so can they leave.

And who knows what innocuous word today will be deemed "problematic" by the social justice warriors tomorrow.

And who knows who will derogatorily and condescendingly be deemed a "social justice warrior" simply for trying to be a decent human and remove the world "slave" from a code base, on the off chance that some people might truly feel the pain of that word and its ugly history.

It seems to me that two separate things are being conflated here. Removing "slave" and "master/slave" terms seems fair enough, for the obvious reasons, but "master" on its own also has the innocuous sense of "main" - as in "master switch", "master bathroom", etc.

It looks like this PR removes both sorts of usages reflexively (the author, apparently not a native speaker, perhaps not being aware of a distinction). In the ensuing discussion it seems like those who support the PR are focused on the former sorts of usages, while those who disagree are focusing on the latter - resulting in folks talking past each other.

git push origin current?

> Every single time you people decide to change software for no other reason than social justice, all normal programmers decide to be more racist, sexist, transphobic and whatever else pisses you off - for no other reason than just to spite you.

Although I can't completely agree with this, there is definitely some negative effect of such actions whenever they're undertaken. People who think "this is going too far" will naturally oppose to them. So I wonder about the net benefit here, really. We've been using the master/slave terminology for years, but it has nothing to do with actual slaves and I can't imagine anyone thinking about them when dealing with technology.

> Although I can't completely agree with this

While I read it as doubling down on bigotry. "Oh, you think I'm a racist? I'll show you what racism is really like." I find it hard to think that someone who isn't sexist would decide to become sexist out of spite over terminology.

> We've been using the master/slave terminology for years, but it has nothing to do with actual slaves

In technology, the term "master/slave" is used as a metaphor. The master is in command, and the slave is supposed to obey the commands of the master. In this metaphor, we are assumed to be aligned with the interests of the slave master.

This metaphor absolutely has something to do with actual slaves.

In real life we have concluded that the only moral goal for a slave master is to renounce power, and the goal for slaves is freedom.

If we use the modern view when we apply the metaphor then our moral goal should be to free database slaves. Which isn't really what we want.

That's why I agree with the idea of using a different metaphor.

> I find it hard to think that someone who isn't sexist would decide to become sexist out of spite over terminology.

It doesn't work exactly that way. It's more like some people start telling you to do things that seem absurd to you and imply you are doing something wrong whereas you had no bad intentions at all, and this causes a negative reaction.

> If we use the modern view when we apply the metaphor then our moral goal should be to free database slaves. Which isn't really what we want.

If we really follow this logic, we should ban all negative words and reconsider all metaphors. We should never run any daemons as they're associated with the devil and this could upset adherents of Theistic religions (your explanations of daemon etymology shouldn't matter then). We shouldn't use the name Apache because of the sad history of American natives. We shouldn't use terms such as "bug squashing" as they would imply animal cruelty. And so on and so forth.

I wish this was the top comment as it exactlty shows where all of this leads.

Sometimes people tell me to do absurd things, not because it's absurd but because I don't understand that I'm doing the wrong thing.

I grew up thinking it's okay to wear outdoor shoes inside the house. Since then I've visited places doing that is not just impolite, but rude.

If I visit a Japanese restaurant and people start telling me to take my shoes off, and imply that it's wrong to wear shoes with zashiki style seating - even when I have no bad intentions - should I double-down and insist that I wear my shoes?

No, of course not. What would you do in that case?

> If we really follow this logic, we should ban all negative words

... No? I mean, the example I gave describes how the metaphor is almost completely inverted. That's not a negative, but a flipping of the meaning. I don't see how you concluded that as my logic.

> reconsider all metaphors

"Awe" used to mean something more like fear, and "awesome" meant "profoundly reverential" or "inspiring dread". Since the 1960s it has taken on a meaning more like "impressive, very good". (Quotes from etymonline.) When the Bible says something like "great and awesome God", it doesn't mean to read it the same way that Bill and Ted would use it.

Similarly, the Christmas song says to "don our gay apparel", which has a rather different meaning now than from when it was written.

In both cases, if you want to emphasize the original intent, then yes, I do suggest changing what words you use.

You'll note that neither case refers to a negative.

> We should never run any daemons

Unlike for master/slave, where the terminology comes from actual slavery, the term 'daemons' as used in computing does not come from the (Biblical) devil but from Greek mythology. That meaning has been used in English since the 1500s.

> this could upset adherents

You'll note that my argument isn't based on upsetting people. It's based on using a metaphor where the underlying understanding or interpretation has changed.

You comment 'your explanations of daemon etymology shouldn't matter then'.

There can certainly be an argument for using a different term even if there is no etymological descent. As Christopher Hitchens commented, after using the word "niggardly" - which has no etymological connection to the vile slur - "Nobody said anything, but I privately resolved -- having felt the word hanging in the air a bit -- to say "parsimonious" from then on."

However, very few are making it that argument about daemons, while the push for a change in the master/slave term is at least 20 years old, that I'm aware of. Since some people will object to anything, no matter what, the idea that there may be an objection doesn't sway me much.

> We shouldn't use the name Apache because of the sad history of American natives

I lived in New Mexico, and know that people from the Jicarilla Apache Nation and from the Mescalero Apache Tribe are not opposed to general use of term "Apache". (I verified just now that they use 'Apache' on their web site.) I think you are just making this up to make a point.

My argument, however, was not based on hypothetical situations that someone might be offended or that there might be negative interpretation.

If you are making it up, then I suggest that you should not use the suffering of American Natives to score an internet point.

> We shouldn't use terms such as "bug squashing" as they would imply animal cruelty.

I believe you are right. Also, "bug hunt." I have wondered why it always felt a bit odd to me. Along with that would be phrases like "ddt" as a name for a debugger. FWIW, I prefer "fixing bugs" rather than "killing bugs.

If there is a general cultural shift towards Jainism or some other belief which avoids the killing of bugs, then yes, we should reconsider that metaphor.

Don't you agree?

I think the underlying issue is not "that it goes too far".

I don't believe anyone would oppose "going this far" in terms of reducing or abolishing actual slavery.

I think what pisses people off is the utter frivolousness of it all. We all know that this is actually not doing anything about actual slavery.

Replacing the word slave in Python or software in general will do actually nothing for actual slaves in the world nor will it change the minds of actual slavers and actual slave owners.

So whilst people probably do not care that much about which specific word is used, they get pissed off by the frivolous sanctimony displayed by the proponents of the change.

What it does it makes people mention this word less often. This is helping forget history. To have it repeated sooner - in some other form, using different words.

Why would one wants to forget history?

Also, there is something else. Due to Taleb's principle of the intolerant minority[1], people that feel this is frivolous are faced with a choice: either submit to the frivolous intolerant zealots or die on a hill which no one really wants to die on; in this case, defending the word slave and be accused of defending actual slavery.

That can piss people off too.

[1]: https://medium.com/incerto/the-most-intolerant-wins-the-dict...

edit: spelling

Thanks for a very interesting read.

As a commenter noted, stones can hurt people too. But, that's not what people think of first when they hear the word stone. On the other hand, if you know the word slave, you know that the first meaning brings up some sad history. It's surprising that in the context of a programming language discussion, a programming language where exact syntax and meaning matters, that this change wouldn't be accepted more easily.

I've never known anyone, minority or not, who got teary-eyed at the word "slave". Uncomfortableness with the basic terminology of slavery is a reflection of how people relate to their privilege, especially in an era where minority rights and minority power are at the forefront of the contemporary narrative.

That isn't to say that there doesn't exist terminology that people should be mindful of. But most privileged, white people wouldn't recognize it. When the candidate for Florida governor denied using the word "monkey" to illicit traditional racial animus in his conservative base, people on the left were incredulous. But why? As we're seemingly attempting to do with the words "master" and "slave", we work hard to erase the incidents of oppression rather than actually addressing oppression. Is it so hard to believe that, once excised from common speech patterns, the memory of the origins and import of words and phrases is forgotten, even if the undertones linger? Especially among earnest individuals? (You can be earnest but still prejudiced and even prone to using the language of prejudice.)

Now, no doubt blacks in Florida had good reason to be incredulous of his supposed ignorance. But context matters, in particular the perseverance of the more crass language of racism in Florida. The use of the word "monkey" was offensive because of the context and what it implies, quite concretely, about the motives of someone running for a very powerful office that has traditionally done horrible things to certain Florida communities. But nobody is, yet, arguing that we should remove the word monkey from zoo plaques, or stop using terms like monkey-patching.

And that's despite the fact that, very much unlike the word "slave", if you shout out "monkey" in the company of certain groups heads will turn. Chattel slavery doesn't exist and hasn't existed for a long time. Absent a malicious or awkward context, the word "slave" doesn't elicit or trigger any anxiety or anger or tension in African-Americans. That slavery is some pervasive obsession of African-Americans that shapes and colors their every thought is a TV trope, and a racist one at that. Blacks no more identify as a slave then they do a monkey. Again, context matters; it's the context which makes the implication; it's context which turns a word into an instrument of oppression. But when the word and topic legitimately come up it makes privileged whites very uncomfortable, which is why it's so memorable and poignant in their collective imagination, and why it makes for cheap tension in script writing.


"they started with childs, let's just not think too much what this means about the author's intelligence"

Considering that he's not a native speaker, and child has an irregular plural form, I find your comment very insulting.

Like someone else said, I would urge some Americans to have a bit more self-awareness about a lot of these issues, in that they are not absolute issues but america-specific ones (not slavery in general of course, but the modern guilt about slavery and racial segregation that is still a bit of an open wound in the USA).

A lot of the 'obvious' connotations to americans about words are simply not there for the larger anglophone world. That doesn't make their concerns invalid - just that it's not 'obvious' that the choice of words is poor.

I make no comments on the merits of this particular issue, just a general point about the context in which a lot of the debates are held, especially with non-american english speakers (e.g. antirez).

Depends if you are a native speaker or not I guess.

My first contact with "master" and "slave" were IDE drives.

It's an interesting point. I'm all for languages evolving as they do. I still would say that the "first" meaning of slave would be known to a majority of people as "an enslaved person." For that reason, it seems like using that term should be avoided and corrected.

In the same vein, even if a small number of people created an alternative meaning that was offensive for a term, I wouldn't think that particular word should be changed/removed just because of that minority of usage.

When the first and most common usage has an ugly history that impacts real people, that seems like a good candidate for an alternative term.

I guess the context here is skewed a bit based on your location for historical reasons. I.e. in Europe slavery ended much earlier than in the USA, and the aftermath is fundamentally different - we don't have a large distinct population that had slaves as ancestors.

I was surprised at just how comically angry people were over this. I can kind of understand their arguments against a trend of being too change-happy and over-correcting, but these things really should be considered case-by-case, not on whether it's part of a trend. It's an opportunity to use more descriptive terms, with being less insensitive as a bonus, and neither of these warrants the level of hate that's been coming out.

Really, "master" and "slave" are pretty overused in tech for situations where it only kind of makes sense if you squint. There are a couple of examples of this. For databases, "master" and "slave" doesn't accurately describe the relationship, its more like "original" and "copy". For git, "master" as a name doesn't really make sense either since it implies it's master of something, when "main" or "primary" is closer to the truth.

I also remember seeing "dom" and "sub" being suggested somewhere, and even if it was a joke I'm all for it.

I don't have much of a dog in this fight, however one of the definitions of master is "main, prinicipal". Think of master bedroom, or the master copy of a key.

Removing the term "slave" seems like the big win here.

I always liked the term minion but it would probably also offend someone.

It doesn't cost me anything, the new terms are perfectly clear and sufficient, and hopefully the new language causes less duress for other people.

This discussion always seems to go bad, but changes like this are innocuous to the language and a bonus for people. Totally fine!

A better read than what is found at github can be found here.


I'm quite taken aback by the vitriol in those comments.

Programs are meant to be read by humans, and language/terminology has a huge impact. If there are cost-less replacements to words that are easy to adopt, why not adopt them? These changes are beneficial to the community, don't hurt the language, and are cheap to adopt in many cases anyway.

Well this change implies that it is not OK to use terms like master and slave. The criticism is founded in fears, that this is used as a precedent to control speech. An Idea that is not fully unfounded.

Pythons are dangerous and oppress many people everyday. This is still a problem today and can trigger humans who innately fear snakes. To increase the diversity of people who use Python, we should avoid the use of predatory animals as names

I think it all started long before that – with HDD masters/slaves.


(-) Dom / Sub

(-) Boss / Tasklet

(-) Pat / Pleb (short for Patrician / Plebeian)

(-) Planter / Seed

(-) Client / Contractor

(-) Cat / Human

(-) Doctor / Patient

(-) Dog / Sheep

(-) Knight / Page

(-) Planet / Moon

This is just stupid.

Slaves to speech suppression are masters of nothing - Eric Raymond http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=8114

Bouncing from one extreme to the other.

Why is this flagged?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact