Help me find all the naming controversies in programming
June 9, 2020 12:04 AM   Subscribe

Help me compile a list of situations where computer engineers have been asked to change engineering terms to avoid being racist, sexist, etc. Examples within.

For example:

• 2003 - The LA County government asked manufacturers, suppliers and vendors to stop using "master/slave" to refer to primary/secondary sources which had ripple effects. See Django (2014), Drupal (2014), Redis (2016), and many more.
• 2017 - The Ruby gem factory_girl changed to factory_bot.
• 2020 - RuboCop asked to change its name to avoid casually referencing the police. (The example that prompted this question.)

I'm only interested in examples involving engineering terms, names of programming tools, and other such things that would primarily affect other engineers or the people they work with.

Thanks!
posted by i like crows very much to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 


Testacular?
posted by mpark at 12:16 AM on June 9 [3 favorites]


The Microsoft style guide has a page on bias-free communication which covers some of this, although without details of any specific incidents.

Examples not mentioned already include "perimeter network" in place of "DMZ" and "stops responding" instead of "hang".
posted by parm at 3:09 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


Thanks so far!

I am looking for specific incidents rather than style guides, but reading the style guide reminded me of one more:

2013 - Use gender-neutral pronouns in the lubuv repository.

(Pronouns aren't engineering terms, strictly speaking, but I do count it as a naming controversy that primarily affects software developers.)
posted by i like crows very much at 3:23 AM on June 9


I dont know of any attempt to change conventions, but the usage of male and female for connectors is sometimes problematic. I just saw a note that a female connector is sometimes called a jack.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:06 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


The Python library Yellowbrick used an API with the cutesy method name poof(), which was changed to show().
posted by theodolite at 5:19 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


Mozilla imaging library named libpr0n seems to have lasted through a decade of objections before being renamed.
posted by octothorpe at 5:29 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]




Hmm, upon re-reading the question my answer is a bit off topic as Glimpse/GIMP is an image editor rather than a software engineering tool. Apologies.
posted by What is E. T. short for? at 7:26 AM on June 9


I just saw a note that a female connector is sometimes called a jack.

Weird, and prone to cause confusion. A female plug would be a socket, and jacks are a particular shape of (male) plugs.
posted by Stoneshop at 7:43 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


My favorite is that a motor connector box is called a peckerhead.
posted by H21 at 8:47 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


Most computer busses use the terms: "master" and "slave". The PCI bus uses "target" instead of slave, because one of the early reviewers of the specification objected to "slave". [I was on the spec review team, but I don't remember who that reviewer was. ]
posted by monotreme at 9:42 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]




Renaming of the Agile practice of backlog "grooming" to "refinement", not to eliminate bigotry but to avoid connotations of child sexual abuse.
posted by magicbus at 9:47 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


replacing male/female connectors with muffin/pan (Rose Eveleth, 2015)
posted by scruss at 10:56 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


Only very slightly related, I once built a serial number generation program for a manufacturing outfit. The customer would specify, for instance, a year and a month, plus 4 numbers that incremented for every product: 04010001, 04010002, ...

As the company grew, so did the number of serial number formats and product volumes. Inevitably, a customer specified a format with four or more consecutive, incrementing letters: AAAA, AAAB, ...... and eventually, of course, FUCK, which the customer was less than amused by. Oops. I ended up writing a filter for all the bad, offensive, and ugly words that I could find. So, yeah. Generators.
posted by cowcowgrasstree at 12:16 PM on June 9 [4 favorites]


All the way back in my college days (circa mid-70's), when I was a TA in an introductory programming course, we had a student that objected to describing a program that came to an unplanned halt as "aborted."
posted by SPrintF at 3:35 PM on June 9 [3 favorites]


This is not quit the same thing but the code for the glibc manual had an abortion "joke" in it and Stallman had fits when people tried to remove it.
posted by jessamyn at 3:51 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


Windows used to quite commonly throw up the error message:
This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down.
Anyone who has worked in tech support for long enough will at some point have dealt with or heard about a confused & terrified user who saw that message and thought that the police were on their way to arrest them. You can imagine how that might be worsened for those with additional reasons to fear the police.

At some point, that message was removed - or at least better hidden. I couldn't find much about specific incidents leading to this (and it's a hard thing to search for given all the technical material referencing the error), but this WSJ story from April 1999 mentions broader changes in Windows 2000 to describe user-facing errors more appropriately, and touches on the specific issues with that message (including how it was translated literally into other languages).

The article mentions an upcoming change to:
[Program name] has generated errors and will be closed by Windows. You will need to restart the program.
I don't recall seeing that particular wording from Windows - I think they went with something similar but different in the end, but I certainly don't recall the original wording showing up much in the last few versions.
posted by automatronic at 2:27 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Thanks, everyone! I've been digging and found more examples. Here's everything so far:

???? ✓ PCI bus uses "target" instead of "slave" because an early reviewer of the specification objected.
2003 ~ The LA County government asked manufacturers, suppliers and vendors to stop using "master/slave"
2011 ✓ Rename Mozilla libpr0n to image
2011 ✓ The C Markdown library Upskirt renamed to Sundown
2013 ~ "the Pidora name bears an unfortunate similarity to another word in Russian"
2013 ✓ Rename Feedzirra to Feedjira.
2013 ✓ Rename teabag.js to teaspoon
2013 ✓ Rename testacular to karma
2013 ✓ Use gender-neutral pronouns in the lubuv repository.
2013 ✓ The SCRUM guide renames backlog "grooming" to backlog "refining."
2014 ✓ Django stops using "master/slave"
2014 ✓ Drupal stops using "master/slave"
2014 ✗ Attempt to rename the PHP library ColorJizz.
2015 ✓ Rename moron.js to objection.js
2015 ~ Rose Eveleth recommends changing "male/female" connectors to "muffin/pan".
2016 ✓ Redis stops using master/slave
2017 ✗ Attempt to rename vuluptuous
2017 ✓ The Ruby gem factory_girl changed to factory_bot.
2018 ✗ Richard Stallman refuses to remove an abortion joke in the glibc manual.
2018 ✓ IETS publishes "Terminology, Power and Oppressive Language," recommending against "master/slave" and "blacklist/whitelist".
2018 ✗ Rename "pydor," which is a derogatory term for homosexual in Russian.
2018 ✓ Rename Erlang library "coon" to "enot."*
2018 ✗ Attempt to rename nipple.js
2019 ✓ yellowbrick renames poof() method to show()
2019 ✓ Angular.js - Rename blacklist/whitelist to more accurate and appropriate names.
2019 ~ GIMP forked as Glimpse after GIMP devs refuse to change the name.
2020 ✗ RuboCop asked to change its name to avoid casually referencing the police.
2020 ✓ The Go programming language eliminated usages of whitelist/blacklist and master/slave.

✓ = name changed
✗ = name did not change
~ = ambiguous / not applicable

* includes a post by none other than cortex
posted by i like crows very much at 3:14 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


I just saw a note that a female connector is sometimes called a jack. Weird, and prone to cause confusion. A female plug would be a socket, and jacks are a particular shape of (male) plugs.
posted by Stoneshop at 10:43 AM on June 9 [+] [!]


No, sorry, I know this isn't central to the OP's question, but a jack (or socket) is the "female" device that receives a plug, and the plug is "male."

"Female plug" doesn't make any sense.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:49 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I have gone through and added hyphens or underscores to the phrase api-key in all of our code, because when you ram those two words together the space could be imagined between the 'a' and the 'p' which spells out a rude epithet for Gypsies in the UK.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:05 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


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