The term “master” is littered throughout the English language. We use terms like “Masterclass,” “mastery,” and “master copy” to describe expertise or an original version. But of course “master” was the title for those who enslaved people. Although this word is no longer used to reference slavery explicitly, it still carries traces of America’s original sin. In some cases, that reference is still obvious – in automotive hydraulic systems like brakes and clutches, there are master and slave cylinders.
The term master bedroom has become controversial since it’s been argued that its origins have no direct link to slavery. Nevertheless, the term denotes a sense of White male dominance in modern times that is increasingly unacceptable, leading reconsideration of the term’s use. It has already been scrapped as official terminology in real estate, technology, and a handful of other industries.
Some believe that all terms with “master” in them are so far removed from ideas of slavery that rethinking this term is unnecessary. On the other hand, we understand that words are powerful, and if they trigger feelings of racism or sexism, then it is worth swapping out for more inclusive terminology.
What to Say Instead
The term master is used for many things, so substitutions depend on what you’re trying to say. Instead of “master bedroom”, use “primary” or “main” bedroom. Instead of having “mastered” a skill, try “learned” or “expert.” If you’re talking about a “master copy,” try “the original” or “primary copy” instead. In instances where “master” and “slave” are still used together, try “primary” and “secondary” instead.