Words have meaning. This statement shouldn’t be a surprise coming from The New York Times, but for the technology industry at large, it’s something that has been increasingly discussed in recent years.
Whether it’s terminology like “master” or “blacklist,” words with harmful connotations have been baked into tech communication for decades. Words like these bring with them the weight of slavery and discrimination, and signal that those who have held power in the tech industry have had the privilege to ignore the impact of these antiquated terms. People of color are still underrepresented in tech, and the industry’s continued use of these terms acts in direct opposition to an inclusive and equitable culture.
However, tech culture is changing. In 2014, Drupal replaced “master” and “slave” with “primary” and “replica.” Then, in 2018, Python adopted new terminology such as “worker” and “helper.” More recently, Github announced that they would permanently change their default naming conventions for initial repository branches from “master” to “main.”
Like many other organizations, The Times is re-examining the language we use to be more mindful of how we describe our technology. With the support of our technology leadership and product stakeholders, a group of Times engineers and product designers wrote a set of guidelines for our own naming conventions.
We are sharing them here with the hope that advocating for these changes adds to the momentum we’ve seen in the technology industry to create a safe and inclusive culture for all.
Finding the Right Words
The New York Times is releasing guidelines for how we describe our products