Short Subjects

Language as a weapon, pt 1

This CNN article notes that the City of Los Angeles has decided that the terms, “Master” and “Slave,” are inappropriate and insensitive labels on computer and electronic equipment. For those of you unskilled in Geek-speak, a master drive in a computer is the primary drive, while a slave drive is secondary. It doesn’t really mean anything other than the master drive is where your computer will first look for booting instructions.

But we are now too sensitive to use the word “slave” anymore, unless you’re into bondage, in which case you’ve got a lot more to hide from polite society anyway. I’m not a big fan of this type of soft censorship. It leads rise to charges of racism when someone uses perfectly appropriate words that sound a bit like the verboten words. It changes the way language is used, and it makes people believe that Liberals have run amok.

Except Political Correctness is not a liberal disease. Even though many people on the left blanch at insulting words, the idea that we shouldn’t offend anyone ever is a very conservative trait. I try not to use words that are offensive or insulting because, as a writer, I want to get my thoughts across to the reader, and throwing a big, bad word in the middle of something is like a traffic light on the Autobahn. I use any word as a tool, and most of the time a racial or sexual incentive isn’t needed… you jerk.

Back to the issue. Calling a computer peripheral “slave” doesn’t diminish or make light of the horrible history that America had with slavery. It isn’t a racial slur. It isn’t even meant to be provocative. It is simply one more sexual euphemism that computer scientists labeled every part of the computer with. Do you want your disk hard or floppy? How much RAM do you have? Have you upgraded your firmware? Attach that dongle or the software will not load. Please, show me the racist engineer that decided that a slave drive was a sneaky way of sticking it to African-Americans, and I’ll show you a thousand engineers that snicker every time the computer prompts them to insert their disk into any drive.

I am sometimes surprised at what society picks next to be the dread word. English is loaded with words that don’t have the noblest roots. So we still “hysterical,” despite its extremely sexist origins. If “slave” is indeed going to be a false target for White guilt, what will we call that group of people in our history books? The shackled class? It’s too silly to even joke about it. But it is one more example of how we can’t seem to focus our attention on the things that make racism and sexism prevalent in any society.