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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.

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile