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Twitter Engineering Team Rolls Out Inclusive Language List
Twitter logo displayed on a phone screen in Tehatta, Nadia, West Bengal, India on June 16, 2020. Twitter is launching two new features: The ability to save a tweet as a draft, as well as the ability to schedule a tweet to send at a specific time.
Soumyabrata Roy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Twitter Engineering team has unveiled a list of problematic words in its technical lexicon, and their preferable replacements, as part of an effort to make language more inclusive.

“Inclusive language plays a critical role in fostering an environment where everyone belongs. At Twitter, the language we have been using in our code does not reflect our values as a company or represent the people we serve,” said the engineering team.

Under the new guidelines, at least nine terms have been identified as problematic, including blacklist, whitelist, and man hours. These words will now be referred to as denylist, allowlist, and person hours or engineer hours, respectively.

“There is no switch we can flip to make these changes everywhere, at once. We will continue to iterate on this work and want to put in place processes and systems that will allow us to apply these changes at scale,” said the engineering team.

According to the engineering team’s account, the terms “master/slave,” which denote a technical relationship between one device or process and another one, will also be phased out in favor of leader/follower, primary/replica, or primary/standby. The terms grandfathered, sanity check, and dummy values will also be changed, in addition to references to gendered language, such as the term “guys” when used on a group of people.

JPMorgan Chase has also moved to change the names of similar technical terms. Columbia Business School programming professor Mattan Griffel, who agrees with the policy, told Reuters the investment in the change wasn’t “trivial,” and could cost millions of dollars and take months to complete.

“This kind of language and terminology is so entrenched. It has to (change) and now is as good a time as any,” Griffel told the news agency.

The business technology news website ZDNet recently reported that efforts to change problematic terms and phrases in the tech world have been underway for the last several years, but have received mixed results and reactions.

“Most detractors and the explanation that often resurfaces in these discussions is that terms like master/slave are now more broadly used to describe technical scenarios than actual slavery and that the word ‘blacklist’ has nothing to do with black people, but the practice of using black books in medieval England to write down the names of problematic workers to avoid hiring in the future,” reports the news agency.

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