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The term “master” is littered throughout the English language. We use terms like “master class,” “mastery” and “master copy” to describe expertise or an original version. In some cases, the reference is intended to reflect technical concepts — in automotive hydraulic systems like brakes and clutches, there are master and slave cylinders. 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 those traces.

The term “master bedroom” has become controversial since some argue 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 to 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” are so far removed from ideas of slavery that rethinking this term is unnecessary, such as in the automotive parts context mentioned above. 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.

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 (as in technical terminology), try “primary” or “main” and “secondary” instead.

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