[SIGCIS-Members] History of gendered terms, e.g., "motherboard"

Edgar Daylight egdaylight at yahoo.com
Tue May 23 10:50:55 PDT 2017

For what it is worth, here is my small contribution to gendered language in connection with Knuth:
I recall having to change each phrase "traveling salesman problem" into "traveling salesperson problem" in my recent oral histories with Donald Knuth (= around 2014). I recall informing him that I was correctly citing from his own papers, which are several decades old.
Knuth insisted on being gender neutral so the published oral histories  consistently use the phrase "traveling salesperson problem".

The oral histories are available here: http://www.lonelyscholar.com/
The traveling salesperson problem is an important problem, both in industry and in complexity theory. I don't know how many complexity theorists have switched to the gender neutral term but I guess it would make a great case study.

best wishes,Edgar

    On Tuesday, May 23, 2017 7:29 PM, "McMillan, William W" <william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu> wrote:

 Caitlin, this is an interesting study!

I'm not sure, though, if "today's engineers" would very readily coin gender-specific terms for parts of computers.  These terms go back a long way.

The "master-slave" terminology has going for it that the relationship between, say, a bus arbiter and connected devices is, in truth, a master-slave relationship.  The other connotations make it hard for me to use the terms in class, but it's difficult to find synonyms.  Controller-controlled?  Decider-doer?  Kind of awkward.  (Suggestions welcome!)

In contrast to the gendered terms, in describing the tree data structure, the relationship between nodes has always been parent-child, back at least to Knuth's volumes, not father-son, mother-son, or the like.  Same with object/class hierarchies.

- Bill

From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] on behalf of Wylie, Caitlin Donahue (cdw9y) [cdw9y at eservices.virginia.edu]
Sent: Monday, May 22, 2017 8:11 PM
To: members at SIGCIS.org
Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] History of gendered terms, e.g., "motherboard"

Dear all,
Do you know of any studies of gendered language in computing? I’m intrigued by the way today’s engineers throw around words like “motherboard” and “daughterboard”, and also “master” and “slave”, without being aware of how those words sound to non-engineers (like me). I’d be interested in learning about historical or sociological studies.

Thank you!

All the best,
Caitlin Wylie
Caitlin D. Wylie, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Program in Science, Technology and Society
University of Virginia
wylie at virginia.edu<mailto:wylie at virginia.edu>

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