Dec 26, 2022Liked by Adrian Daub

Re: "master". In IT work, there's a tradition of using "master" and "slave" when one server (etc.) in some sense takes instruction from another. A database, for example, might run on several computers, each of which has a copy of the data. The master is the computer that receives all the changes ("writes"), which it then distributes to the slaves. All requests for data go to the slaves. In most cases, this improves responsiveness.

Sometimes it's the case where if a master fails, one of the slaves becomes the new master.

As that example shows, it's not the greatest analogy. The terminology is falling out of favor. For example, the *very* widely used Postgres database says "Servers that can modify data are called read/write, master or primary servers. Servers that track changes in the primary are called standby or secondary servers." As you can see, "slave" (unsurprisingly) is more likely to be dumped than "master", but the latter is also often changed, typically to some controversy.

For example, github.com is widely used to manage multiple versions of programs. One version used to be the "master" version. You'd copy a new version from the master, change it, and then likely "merge the changes back" into master. The analogy, I'm sure, was to "master document" or "master tape". Nevertheless the default name got changed to "main" a few years ago, to much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I very much suspect the Stanford IT department was following that trend.

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The reference to "code" is almost certainly just a warning to people that comments in code have a nasty way of coming to light years later, and maybe you want to look like a human being when they do. Brogrammers can be pretty foul in comments sometimes. I wonder if there was an actual incident behind this.

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Dec 27, 2022·edited Dec 27, 2022

"Master" is also used in video and audio production to refer to the final authoritative rendering of a given project, either analog or digital. Also used in audiovisual archival practices to refer to same, and to track provenance as various other copies and compressed versions are made. Also used as a verb, meaning to render the final version in a multitrack production environment. It never occurred to me this could be a problematic term, but over time we do inherit language in surprising ways. And I think it can be enlightening, or at least interesting, to explore some of this stuff. But I suspect the "master/slave" version of "master" might be only one version of the term's original meaning, or in other words, not the master. I'm not especially motivated to find out, as my research agenda is pretty chock-full right now.

Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed it.

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Your complaints are petty and obfuscate the problem, which should be causing moral panic in more people.

Trying to control people through language is an old trick, but very useful if you can get the ball rolling. You clearly know this, since you refer to attempts 30-40 years ago and apparently know what Orwellian means. If you haven't noticed, lately a certain ideology has been pretty successful in controlling the discussions by dictating the verbiage, and that verbiage looks a lot like this Stanford list. The story is not about specific people at Stanford. It's about this particular societal poison bubbling up *and people swallowing it*: A moral panic.

Bubbling up at a University is what happens about half the time anyway, so "At Stanford" is all the details we need, since the onus is on the admin to fix it, regardless of whatever convoluted hierarchies exist there.

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Wonderful post. In particular, I loved your criticism of the WSJ editorial page, whose writers consistently display their intellectual dishonesty by mischaracterizing or cherry-picking what people have said or written to support their pre-existing biases and conclusions.

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Excellent article! As a historian I've found that far too many journalists rely on secondary or tertiary sources. Even when they do find a primary source they fail to properly apply source criticism. The end result is predictable. The process you went through is very similar to what I use when doing my research. Sadly, these skills are being lost in favor of knee-jerk mockery and screaming punditry.

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The inclusion of "master" in this IT context was no doubt inspired at least in part by the Git community's action a couple of years ago, to change the default name of the principal branch of a code repository from "master" to "main": https://www.theserverside.com/feature/Why-GitHub-renamed-its-master-branch-to-main

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For what it is worth. the announcement said: "

We will also scan code we have written at Stanford for harmful language (e.g., terms containing master/slave or black/white, among others)."

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