Specific subjects of study or work
Information technology and software development
Some workers in software development and information technology have been pushing since at least 2003 for technical documentation to use more inclusive terminology. During racial protests starting in 2020 after George Floyd’s murder, this movement gained more momentum, and technology professionals began suggesting alternatives for terms such as “master” and “slave,” which were commonly used to describe a variety of hierarchical systems and which can normalize and trivialize slavery when used metaphorically (see also “Avoid language that perpetuates racial or ethnic stereotypes or is rooted in violence against these groups”). Groups such as the Inclusive Naming Initiative have looked at terminology holistically, reviewing whether terms exclude people on the basis of gender, disability, and other factors.
The leadership of the Internet Engineering Task Force, an internet standards organization, has voiced support for inclusive language, as has the Academy Software Foundation, a branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Several universities have followed suit and developed their own inclusive language projects, such as the University of Washington’s IT-specific guide and the Northwestern University IT department’s strategic initiative.
Using more inclusive terms can make people feel more welcome and accepted and be clearer—using straightforward terms instead of metaphors makes the meaning more widely understood. In some instances, regardless of whether a term is exclusionary, a replacement is more precise. For example, people have debated whether “dummy value” is ableist—whether it reinforces stereotypes against people with disabilities because of the historical use of “dummy” as an insult. But an alternative, “placeholder value,” is clearer regardless of whether “dummy value” is exclusionary. Similarly, some groups also think violent words like "kill" and "nuke" should be replaced because their violent associations are distracting, but on top of that, alternatives like “halting a process” and “deleting files” are more direct.
See the table below for a selection of terms to use in place of problematic ones in IT. This is not a comprehensive list of all exclusionary terms in IT or software. Rather, the list is intended to highlight the main problematic terms and spark reflection on the impact of language used in IT. When deciding when to replace terms, think critically about whether the term excludes people or reinforces stereotypes and whether an alternative would be clearer. Consider adopting a set of principles, like the framework of the Inclusive Naming Initiative, to help guide decisions about terminology.
Context: A device, system, or object that produces useful information without revealing any information about its internal workings
blacklist and whitelist
block list and allow list
reject list and accept list
prohibit list and permit list
deny list and safe list
(or any combination of these)
Context: Permissions, publishing
Context: Thread signaling, user interface and user experience design
male and female connectors
|plug and socket|
Note: Framing “male” and “female” as opposites enforces the gender binary. See also “Not implying that gender is a binary construct.”
Context: Resourcing and scheduling
See also “Gender-neutral language.”
man in the middle
attacker in the middle
machine in the middle
|Context: Cryptographic attacks|
See also “Gender-neutral language.”
master and slave
primary and secondary
main and replica
parent and child
|Context: Hierarchal services|
See also “Avoid language that perpetuates racial or ethnic stereotypes or is rooted in violence against these groups.”
mom test, girlfriend test
test with novice users
Context: User testing
Note: Associating a mom or girlfriend with beginners perpetuates the stereotype that women aren’t skilled with technology.
Context: Quality control
agile team facilitator
Context: Project or product management
|web product owner|
Context: Website development
white hat, black hat, and gray hat
|benign, malicious, and hacktivist|
Context: Security hacking
Resources on inclusive language for specific subjects of study or work
- Inclusive Naming Initiative.
- Knodel, M., and N. ten Oever. “Terminology, Power, and Inclusive Language in Internet-Drafts and RFCs.” Internet Engineering Task Force Internet-Draft draft-knodel-terminology-10, July 11, 2022.
- Lee, Angeline. “It Starts with Words: Unconscious Bias in Gender, Race, and Class in Tech Terminology.” Medium, Aug. 19, 2020.
- UK Finance, EY, and Microsoft. Use of Non-inclusive Language in Technology and Cybersecurity and Why It Matters. 2021.
- University of Washington. “IT Inclusive Language Guide.” Last modified Aug. 8, 2022.