Tag Archives: open-source

No, inclusive language is not NewSpeak

The Inclusive Naming initiative is an effort to remove language from software which creates an unwelcoming community. Words like ‘slave’, for example, are used extensively in software, when other words are both more meaningful and less problematic.

When I discuss this effort, by far the most common response that I get from detractors is that it’s Orwellian – that it is NewSpeak – that it is erasing words and forbidding subversive thought.

In Orwell’s book 1984, NewSpeak is a state-approved modification to language that uses vague, euphemistic words, when the clearer, more accurate word is deemed bad.

This is quite literally the opposite of what we are trying to do with the INI and related conscious language efforts. Instead, we are trying to replace metaphors like ‘slave’ with words that accurately describe what is happening in the software, while at the same time removing the association with the horrifying history of actual slavery in the real world.

The ideal that we are somehow forbidding the use of the word ‘slave’, in this example, is equally untrue. The word slave has a meaning, and a historical context, and should be used to reflect that meaning and context. Using ‘slave’ to refer to a database replica, for example, not only has these overtones from *actual slavery*, it also doesn’t accurately describe what is happening in database replication, which is confusing.

Technical documentation should avoid idiomatic phrases, colloquialisms, and metaphor, whenever possible, and should always strive to choose the word or phrase that describes the function or feature in the most unambiguous way possible. Words and phrases such as slave, blacklist, insane, and so on, not only violate that rule, but do it in a way that is likely to make segments of the population feel unwelcome or “othered“, which is the antithesis of community building.

Women in Open Source

I’ve been thinking about the topic of women in open source for quite some time. For context, the percentage of women in IT is about 20%, and the percentage of women in open source is about 1.5%. For larger context, read Skud’s OSCon keynote, because she is *way* better at articulating it than I am.

Which brings me to my point.

The women I know in open source are way above average. By which I mean, quite simply, that almost all of them make me feel stupid by comparison.

Now, I don’t consider myself a genius, but I also know that I’m no dunce. I’ve written 13 books. I can read several languages, and make myself understood in one or two of them. I have a masters degree in mathematics. I’m no slouch.

But then I look at people like Skud, Allison Randall, Noirin Shirley, and Elizabeth Naramore, among others, and feel like maybe I should have paid more attention in school.

But, see, if I look around all of the Open Source projects that I’m involved with, *all* of the women are this caliber. There are no average or below-average women in Open Source, it seems. Which makes me look at some of Skud’s statistics, and wonder.

Sure, men are unaware of the problem, because they look around and see these amazingly talented women working with them, and figure, how can there be a problem.

But that seems to only highlight the problem. Why’s that? Well, apparently, when you’re a woman, you have to be amazing just to get past all of the old-boys-club and macho chauvinism that pervades the entire Open Source culture. Granted, this is less true in some corners of the kingdom than others, but it’s pretty prevalent where I live.

I remember riding up to my hotel room (at a conference) in an elevator with my wife, and a PHP developer who, fortunately, I don’t know the name of, wearing a shirt that was so profoundly offensive and degrading to women that it was all I could do to not make him apologize right there. Perhaps I should have. And that’s certainly not a one-off anecdote.

Now, I don’t pretend to know what the solution is. But I think that a good way to start is reading Skud’s presentation, and not wearing shirts like that – not only at conferences, but ever. Until we men adjust our attitudes about women, we’re going to perpetuate this problem – even if we refuse to acknowledge that it’s a problem.

Right place at the right time

Jim blogged about the PHP credits list, and so I took a look. I was amazed to notice that of all the people listed, I know at least half of them, and have met most of the others. I’ve been very lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and meet some amazing people, and get associated with a pretty amazing organization, and by extension, a bunch of others.

In the early days, when the term Open Source wasn’t quite as well known as it is now, I managed to meet a significant number of the folks responsible for Perl, and become friends with several of them. A few years later I started spending more time with Apache than with Perl, and that’s developed into speaking opportunities, books, interesting projects – but most importantly and lastingly, a bunch of friends.

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of just how lucky I’ve been over the last ten years, and the truly astonishing opportunities that have been available to me by virtue just being in the right place, and being willing to volunteer a little of my time.

I’ve been less involved for the last year, since there’s somewhere that my attention has needed to be focused. I’m gradually getting back into spending time on Apache things, but it’s given me some time to think about where I want to spend the few cycles that I have, and I expect that my involvement will be a little different from what it’s been in the past.

But time will tell.