Terminology, Power and Offensive Language

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Network Working Group                                          M. Knodel
Internet-Draft                                                ARTICLE 19
Intended status: Best Current Practice                      N. ten Oever
Expires: September 12, 2019                      University of Amsterdam
                                                          March 11, 2019

               Terminology, Power and Offensive Language


   This document argues for and describes alternatives that shift
   specific language conventions used by RFC Authors and RFC Editors to
   avoid offensive terminology in the technical documentation of the RFC
   series.  Specifically, this document details two sets of terms that
   are normalised on the technical level but offensive on a societal
   level.  First, arguments are presented for why any offensive terms
   should be avoided by the IETF/IRTF.  Second, problem statements for
   both sets of terms are presented and alternatives are referenced and
   proposed.  There is a third section on additional considerations and
   general action points to address the RFC series, past and future.
   Lastly, a summary of recommendations is presented.

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

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Knodel & ten Oever     Expires September 12, 2019               [Page 1]
Internet-Draft                 Terminology                    March 2019

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1.  Terminology and power at the IETF

   The primary function of the IETF is to publish documents that are
   "readable, clear, consistent, and reasonably uniform" and one
   function of the RFC Editor is to "[c]orrect larger content/clarity
   issues; flag any unclear passages for author review [RFC7322].  Given
   the importance of communication at the IETF, it is worth considering
   the effects of terminology that has been identified as offensive,
   racist and sexist.  Furthermore, this document argues that certain
   obviously offensive terms be avoided and replaced with alternatives.
   These sets of terms are "master-slave" and "white-blacklist" for
   their racist and race-based meanings.

   According to the work of scholar Heather Brodie Graves from 1993,
   "one goal of the application of rhetorical theory in the technical
   communication classroom is to assess the appropriateness of
   particular terms and to evaluate whether these terms will facilitate
   or hinder the readers' understanding of the technical material"
   [BrodieGravesGraves].  This implies that in order to effectively
   communicate the content of RFCs to all readers, it is important for
   Authors to consider the kinds of terms or language conventions that
   may inadvertently get in the way of effective communication.  She
   continues, "complex and subtle configurations of sexist, racist, or
   ethnocentric language use in technical documents can derail or
   interfere with readers' ability and desire to comprehend and follow
   important information."

   Indeed, problems of language are problems of everyday speech.  Racist
   and sexist language is rampant and similarly counter-productive in
   other sectors, notably social work [Burgest].  The terms "master-
   slave," treated in detail below are present in other realms of
   technology, notably "automotive clutch and brake systems, clocks,
   flip-flop circuits, computer drives, and radio transmitters"
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