Language and Communication


Unconscious and implicit bias


Racism and White Privilege

Problematic Words and Phrases

Substitutions and Alternatives

A number of authoritative sources are now advocating for more careful word choice, and avoiding those that are unclear, rely on a background not everyone may have, or can cause pain to others. Some useful lists:


Some words and phrases in longtime use in software development have associations that are uncomfortable or painful for some people. When the people hurt by a word or phrase are under-represented, such words can become commonly used despite being hurtful. As we learn to be more welcoming and inclusive, that can include adjusting our language to avoid words with historical connotations that cause pain.

What’s more, such uses are almost always metaphors, and not all members of our industry share a given set of cultural references to draw on for such metaphors. Maybe you’re familiar with cowboy movies in which the good guys wear white hats and the bad buys wear black hats: someone who grew up on a different continent from you, or 40 years after you, may not be.


The word master has painful connotations for many people, because of its use in slavery. It is therefore important to avoid using it. Even when the historical use for it is not related to slavery, it’s still important to avoid using it, because of the pain it will cause some of your users/readers.



We communicate not only with words, but with images. If your talk, blog post, article or tweets all feature able-bodied white men, you might not know where to find anything different. Here are some starting points.


Some behaviours are so common in response to diversity efforts that they have been named and categorized. Knowing that a particular line of argument or way of talking to you is common may help you resist it, and deal with it more confidently.


Paradox of Tolerance

Being inclusive doesn’t mean allowing everything, especially intolerance and rudeness: this is the “Paradox of Tolerance”.


TERF is an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist.


In the words of Dr Nisreen Alwan:

I’m fed up of people not introducing me by my titles in public forums. I am a Dr (medic & PhD). I’m an Associate Professor. I worked hard to gain these titles & I don’t give permission to omit them. Just because I’m an ethnic minority woman doesn’t mean that I’m just ‘Nisreen’!


Whataboutery is an arguing approach that asks “what about” some other thing to derail conversation.