Replace oppressive terms with inclusive terms.

David Woodhouse dwmw2 at
Mon Jun 28 02:03:37 PDT 2021

On Sun, 2021-06-27 at 17:47 +0200, Adrian Schmutzler wrote:
> > There are only a few things more dangerous when you start censoring or
> > reinterpreting past literature or events, specially when you hope that words
> > you don't like have to be looked up in a dictionary. I don't think wiping out
> > the past (which is an all-time favorite for both far-right and far-left) would
> > make the world a better place. You know the drill, you either learn from the
> > past or repeat it. This "woke movement" has an alarming number of
> > similarities to both extremes from our history.
> > 
> > As far as I know we have a defined way to start voting and cross-posting was
> > never one of them.
> > 
> > You are free to be neutral, but nonsense like this will be always a hardline
> > "no" from me.
> +1
> Thanks for wrapping this up into the proper words/arguments.

I respectfully disagree. I *used* to think along similar lines, but
I've changed my mind over time.

I *used* to make quite a forceful argument that some people should go
back to primary school and be forced to take basic "comprehension"
exercises again. If you're not familiar with those, they're the kind
where you're learning not just to read words, but to actually take
*meaning* from sentences and paragraphs.

So you'd be given a paragraph or a page of text, asked to read it, and
then to answer questions on what was being said. So for example (using
a very short text; it's normally more than a sentence) such an exercise
might look like this:


   "Some of the master tapes of Doctor Who episodes from the 1960s were
    lost in a fire at the BBC Archive."

Having read that text, please answer which (if any) of the following
statements are true:

  • Episodes involving the character "The Master" were lost in a fire.

  • Some of the original recording tapes from which other copies were
    made for distribution, were lost.

  • Episodes involving slavery were lost.


Now, speaking purely from the point of view of reading and
comprehension ability, there are very clear right and wrong answers to
the above. Some of those answers are just outright wrong.

I always used to take the view that by pandering to those who are just
being wrong — who would FAIL these exercises that we give to children
as they learn to read — we would be contributing to the ongoing
dumbing-down of society. That society would be served *better*,
overall, by helping people learn to read and think coherently again

But there are a number of reasons why I've changed my viewpoint on
that. Firstly, I cam to realise that it's just massively inconsistent
with how we deal with communication in other ways. We should be *proud*
of communicating in a way that everyone can understand without having
to overthink it.

When it comes to software, I firmly believe that if something "needs"
documenting, then we should fix it first, to make it as intuitive for
*users* as possible. And then document what's left. And — here's the
important part — if a user ever misunderstands the documentation and
doesn't quite take the right meaning, we LOOK FOR A WAY TO IMPROVE THE
WORDING. Sure, we have the 'in jokes' about users, and how we can't
make anything truly idiot-proof because the universe will always invent
a better idiot... but when it comes down to it, decent software
engineers and documenters will try *really* hard to get it right so
that users can read what we write with the *minimum* of critical
thought required.

In every other aspect of our documentation, we *avoid* using terms
which could lead people down the wrong path, and we wouldn't *dream* of
demanding that users do comprehension exercises and say "well of COURSE
the documentation couldn't have meant that".

So while I used to argue against changes like the ones which Daniel is
proposing, now I'm generally supportive. Because it doesn't really hurt
us one iota, and it's actually *consistent* with how any competent
developer should be tailoring their communication anyway.

I confess that it does still grate somewhat, that terms which *ought*
to be considered harmless are being elided. I do have sympathy for the
viewpoint that we're "erasing history" when we can't even refer to USB
as a master/slave setup (which is really is), or to 'master tapes' etc.
because of the oblique reference therein.

But the thing is, those terms *are* becoming less common, and the
effort to declare them 'offensive', while I still think it's a little  
misguided in some ways, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a few very
years, the only projects left that *haven't* changed over will be the
ones who actively refused to do so.

On previous occasions — definitely *not* talking about present company,
but other times in the past where I've been in similar discussions — I
have been part of that refusal and I've looked around at the company
I'm in. And frankly, I haven't enjoyed that association. I know ad
hominem is a well-known logical fallacy, but sometimes the mere fact of
*who* else agrees with you, and their other beliefs and behaviour,
makes you reconsider your own position.

I wouldn't want to get to 2025 and for OpenWRT to be publicly known as
one of *THOSE* projects that refused to change.

And like it or not, that's just a matter of time. The world — and the
language — is moving on.

I'm a dinosaur and a pedant, and I hate it when that happens. I still
can't get over the fact that the BBC started using "billion" to mean
the US definition 10⁹ instead of the "real" English meaning 10¹², ffs.

But it's happening, and we do nobody any favours — least of all our own
reputation — by being snowflakes and trying to fight it.
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