Real estate goes woke with elimination of term “master bedroom”

This is one of those attempts to purge language that I’m ambivalent about. As argued in the New York Times article below and the Chicago Sun-Times article below that, the real-estate term “master bedroom,” which refers to the largest bedroom in a house or apartment—one usually occupied by the parents in the family or the head of a household—is now seen as a racist term, a remnant of “master/slave” terminology of the antebellum U.S. As a result, it’s being eliminated from listings.

I’m ambivalent not on the grounds that it’s racist, for “sexist” would be a more accurate (though equally pejorative) adjective, so there are some grounds for a new term. But as to “walk up”, a term for a building without elevators that a New York real estate group characterizes as ableist, well, that’s over the top. And in all cases I can’t really see that a change in terminology would effect much good. In the end, I’ll put the question to readers below.

First, I wanted to see the origin of the term “master”. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says that it’s very old, coming from the Latin magister, which became “mestre” in French and “magister” in Old English. Its origin certainly had nothing to do with slavery, but referred, as we think of it today, to a boss or authority figure, although for centuries this was usually a man.  Note, though, that in its first paragraph the OED says “in the latter half of the 20th cent. its meaning has been extended to include women (either potentially or in fact) in many of the senses illustrated”:

As for the meanings, here they are up to “slave” in the OUP, with most meanings again comporting with “boss” or authority figure”.  There’s a British usage, too, as in the film “Master and Commander.”

 1.

a. gen. A person (predominantly, a man) having authority, direction or control over the action of another or others; a director, leader, chief, commander; a ruler, governor. Obsolete (archaic in later use).

 b. In extended use, chiefly with an animal as subject.

  1. The manager, overseer, etc., of a shop, factory, or other business. Now historical.

 d. The male head of a house or household.

 e. British colloquial. A person’s professional superior in the British Civil Service, intelligence service, etc. Frequently in plural. 

2.

A person who employs another; (formerly esp.) the employer of a servant or apprentice (cf. sense A. 14). Also: the owner of a slav

But of course the dictionary usage and word origin cuts little ice with those who want to remove the term. The rewriting started in Houston, as the NYT recounts:

The Real Estate Board of New York plans to vote soon on removing the phrase from its residential listings service, the online platform that organizes listings data from brokerages around the city. While most people searching for a new place to live don’t use the site directly, the update is influential since brokerages rely on the service.

Sandhya Espitia, chief operating officer of the real estate board, said its residential board of directors, which would make the decision, has been engaged in “deep conversation” over the last month while also researching similar changes in listing services around the country. They are “assessing what meaningful steps should be put in place to bring greater diversity and inclusion to the industry,” Ms. Espitia said.

The push to stop using the term “master bedroom” comes in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests, and as the industry grapples with issues of housing discrimination and diversity within its ranks. The origins of the term are unclear, but some brokers nonetheless find it offensive and inappropriate.

The Houston Association of Realtors was the first industry group to decide to stop using “master bedroom” in late June, after some members expressed concerns that it could be perceived as racist or sexist. Instead, Houston’s multiple listing service now uses “primary” to describe the largest bedroom and bathroom in a listing. Unlike New York, where renters and buyers tend to use brokerage websites and Streeteasy.com to search for homes, the Houston group’s website is the main place where renters and home buyers go to view new listings.

The article does describe some pushback, including from singer John Legend, who’s black, who singles out a more serious problem:

Of course you can do both if you really object to “master bedroom.” (The phrase apparently traces back to a 1926 Sears catalog that refers to a build-your-own-home kit.)

But will all usages of the term “master,” including ones that have no connection to slavery like the above, be fair game? What about MasterCard? What about a “master” in martial arts or a “Grand Master” in chess? And so on. I do, however, take issue with the use of “master/slave” referring to a device or process that controls other devices or processes: here the referent is clear—and obnoxious.

But the next neologism goes over the line, for if you take it seriously, all usages of the term “walk” are subject to erasure, including “Walk” signs at streetcorners or “the moving walkway” in airports:

The New York Residential Agent Continuum also recommended that its members rethink the phrase, along with replacing other terms like “shared” for “His and Hers” bathrooms and “non-elevator” for “walk-up” building. Heather McDonough Domi, a broker with Compass and a co-founder of the group, said they are also pushing to address these issues in continuing education courses for brokers.

“His and hers” seems outmoded in view of gay couples, but “walk-up”, well, nope.

The Sun-Times piece by Mary Mitchell is much stronger, and I’ll quote just a bit:

“Master” is chiefly defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as a “man who has people working for him, especially servants or slaves.”

What was once accepted as an innocuous term used to describe a person’s dominance is now being denounced as racist.

Frankly, I would pull out my “MasterCard” credit card without ever making the connection that “master” is as rooted in our slavery lexicon as “mammy.”

The fact that people in the real estate industry are debating this issue shows the depth at which Americans of all races are reexamining racial bias.

But I do agree with one of Mitchell’s ideas:

Maybe now African-American leaders, artists, musicians and influencers will launch a serious campaign to stop the use of the n-word.

The NAACP tried in vain to bury the word more than a decade ago.

But Black youth, particularly, have been bamboozled, as Malcolm X would say, into believing that a word rooted in the outright hatred of Black skin could ever be used to describe a Black person — no matter who uses it.

It pains me to hear that word blasting from car radios and from the lips of Black comedians, as if they don’t know where the word comes from.

I’ve long thought—and Grania, who was from South Africa, convinced me of this—that the best way to eliminate the n-word from white people’s vocabulary is to eliminate it from all people’s vocabulary, for it’s still a racial slur with racist origins, even when used fairly innocuously, as in rap songs.  As a Jew, for instance, I’d claim that the words “hebe,” “kike” or “sheeny” are racist whether spoken by Jews or non-Jews. I never use them except to describe how others slur Jews.

Anyway, the dog I have in this fight is tiny, so let’s have a poll:

h/t: BJ

90 Comments

  1. Linda Calhoun
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    It’s still the master bedroom.

    It’s where my cats hang out, and where they hog the bed at night.

    L

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Looks like the no’s will have it. Really a stretch I think. However, building houses without a master bedroom would be a good idea. Having the large bedroom assumes a couple of things that are not always true. That husband and wife are the only sets that buy houses. Also, that they want to sleep in the same bed. Again, not always true. I have been married a long time and we have had many houses. Always they had the “big” bedroom. So we always had to decide, who wants that room.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      We have bedrooms described as Master Bedrooms, which usually means it has its own bathroom. If there’s more than a private bathroom it’s called a Master Suite. Otherwise they’re just single or double bedrooms (according to whether they’ll fit one single bed or a double bed/two single beds. We’ve never had legal slavery in NZ in post-colonial times.

  3. Amil Yaluizae
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Professor Coyne,
    What do you think about Yale computer science professor David Gelernter hopping on the Steven Meyer train and denouncing evolution? I loved your book Why Evolution is True but am looking for specific responses to the objections raised by Gelernter and Meyer in this video, which has been getting a lot of attention (1.5m views):

  4. eric
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I could see the complaint that ‘master bedroom’ is sexist, given that the majority of usages of the word imply a man in charge. “Mistress bedroom” implies something a bit different. 🙂

    But I can’t really see it as racist, since AFAIK the English language usage has never ever implied that all the other bedrooms belong to slaves or servants. We actually use specific terms – servants quarters, servants stairway, etc. – to refer to rooms in old houses that were used by live-in servants. So your regular bedroom users aren’t owned or indentured or servants to the master bedroom user, that’s never what the ‘master bedroom’ phrase implied.

  5. lizwinfreyventura
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    We’re shopping for homes at the moment and I’ve been wondering when this would happen. A lot of home plans I see today refer to the main suite as the “Owner’s Retreat” instead of the “Master Suite”. But, there are plenty that still mention it as the master.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Coincidentally, shopping is what the usual gang of idiots are doing as well: shopping for offense.

    • Posted August 13, 2020 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      There will no doubt be those who oppose “Owners”

      • Posted August 13, 2020 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Communists? Owner’s retreat doesn’t refer to owning people, right? Just that the owner of the house usually gets to pick the best room.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted August 13, 2020 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        You just owned this thread

  6. elihershkovitz
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    To this day, I address birthday cards to my brother as “Master” followed by his name (a habit I learned from my very proper northern grandmother).

    As a contrarian, I will not abide by these new ‘rules’ of engagement.

  7. Amil Yaluizae
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I found his book review where he lays out his objections in detail (https://claremontreviewofbooks.com/giving-up-darwin/), wondering if anyone can help me come up with persuasive responses to these arguments against evolution:

    Objection 1:
    The Protein Problem (See original for more detail):

    “Suppose, then, that every bacterium that has ever lived contributes one mutation before its demise to the history of life. This is a generous assumption; most bacteria pass on their genetic information unchanged, unmutated. Mutations are the exception.

    In any case, there have evidently been, in the whole history of life, around 1040 bacteria—yielding around 10^40 mutations under Axe’s assumptions. That is a very large number of chances at any game. But given that the odds each time are 1 to 10^77 against, it is not large enough. The odds against blind Darwinian chance having turned up even one mutation with the potential to push evolution forward are 10^40x(1/10^77)—10^40 tries, where your odds of success each time are 1 in 10^77—which equals 1 in 10^37. In practical terms, those odds are still zero. Zero odds of producing a single promising mutation in the whole history of life. Darwin loses.

    His idea is still perfectly reasonable in the abstract. But concretely, he is overwhelmed by numbers he couldn’t possibly have foreseen: the ridiculously large number of amino-acid chains relative to number of useful proteins.”

    Objection 2:
    What he calls “the great Darwinian Paradox”

    “There are many other problems besides proteins. One of the most basic, and the last I’ll mention here, calls into question the whole idea of gene mutations driving macro-evolution—the emergence of new forms of organism, versus mere variation on existing forms.

    To help create a brand new form of organism, a mutation must affect a gene that does its job early and controls the expression of other genes that come into play later on as the organism grows. But mutations to these early-acting “strategic” genes, which create the big body-plan changes required by macro-evolution, seem to be invariably fatal. They kill off the organism long before it can reproduce. This is common sense. Severely deformed creatures don’t ever seem fated to lead the way to glorious new forms of life. Instead, they die young.

    Evidently there are a total of no examples in the literature of mutations that affect early development and the body plan as a whole and are not fatal.”

    Objection 3:
    He thinks the Cambrian Explosion refutes Darwin’s theory:

    “In the famous “Cambrian explosion” of around half a billion years ago, a striking variety of new organisms—including the first-ever animals—pop up suddenly in the fossil record over a mere 70-odd million years. This great outburst followed many hundreds of millions of years of slow growth and scanty fossils, mainly of single-celled organisms, dating back to the origins of life roughly three and half billion years ago.

    Darwin’s theory predicts that new life forms evolve gradually from old ones in a constantly branching, spreading tree of life. Those brave new Cambrian creatures must therefore have had Precambrian predecessors, similar but not quite as fancy and sophisticated. They could not have all blown out suddenly, like a bunch of geysers. Each must have had a closely related predecessor, which must have had its own predecessors: Darwinian evolution is gradual, step-by-step. All those predecessors must have come together, further back, into a series of branches leading down to the (long ago) trunk.

    But those predecessors of the Cambrian creatures are missing. Darwin himself was disturbed by their absence from the fossil record. He believed they would turn up eventually.”

    • jezgrove
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Isn’t this just a little off-topic?!

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I suggest that you read the excellent article by our host, to which he provided a link above.

    • Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      This is definitely off topic for this thread, and I’ve already answered you above. I have nothing more to say about Gelernter, so there’s no need to bring it up further.

  8. Amil Yaluizae
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Just realized I posted the wrong video; see this one instead, titled “Mathematical Challenges to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution” in which two Ivy League professors and Sephen Meyer claim that the objections above (among others) are devastating to the theory. Can someone with a better background in the life sciences than I have help me rebut these arguments?

  9. GBJames
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I will fight them on some other hill.

  10. Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    In my world, audio engineering, the word “master” is everywhere, and I have a hard time believing anybody, no matter zir geographical ancestry or sexual expression, attaches inappropriate meanings to it like these sweating realtors manage to do. The audio file I send to the CD replicator is the “master”. The process of generating it is “mastering”. The fader that controls the overall volume level on my microphone mixer is the “master fader”. In olden times, when we ran two multitrack tape recorders in parallel to increase the track count, one was designated the “master” and the other was the “slave”! And somehow we were able to overcome the unsavory historical connotations and make music. No, not “overcome” — what’s that word? Ignore.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      A student masters his or her subject, and sometimes I use a Master key.
      And Yes, I like to sleep in the Master Bedroom, my due (although it is often taken over by my two youngest sons).
      And all my servants should call me Master and kneel before me 🙂

  11. Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I use a wheelchair most of the time. I still walk a little, but stairs are usually insurmountable – especially if I’m cradling a bundle of groceries. I don’t object to apartments being described as “walk up”, basements having “walk out” features, or closets being “walk in”. I’d rather know that a condo is “walk up” before I drive across town to check it out. (I guess one could say “3rd Floor, no elevator”, but wouldn’t the word ‘elevator’ trigger the claustrophobic?)

  12. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I imagine how Pooh would think this over as follows :

    “… assessing what meaningful steps should be put in place to bring greater diversity and inclusion to the industry,”

    Therefore, …[ checks posting ] … “eliminating” … [no..] “burying”… [ not that really either…] ah – here it is :

    “removing the phrase from its residential listings service”

    Yes – that ^^^ which is written up there – that will, by definition,… well… by a “definition”… because it is meaningful, you see – it will :

    “bring greater diversity and inclusion to the industry,”

    Ah. Greater. Yes – it will be “greater”. Because it would have to be.

    I suppose they will know that it is working… the thing they did. Which is… well, the thing they will do… if …

    [ Pooh bear goes for a walk ]

  13. Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    And then there’s the Master’s degree… so racist…

    • Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      … and “servers” in computer networks Ö

    • Filippo
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      “And then there’s the Master’s degree… so racist…”

      Right. What are Harvard, Yale and their Woke ilk going to do about that?

      And why stop there? Is there not something out of kilter about women being awarded “bachelors” degree?

      How about “masterpiece” of some creative endeavor?

      How about the master of a commercial ship?

      Also, IIRC, there is the body of law called “Master-Servant.” (Will it be changed to “Management-Labor/Worker”? “Superior/Subordinate”?) I think it accurately reflects reality and the intentions of our Lords and Masters of the Universe, whatever other linguistic slight-of-hand might be substituted for it. A servant provides a service. There are the military services, the “service member.” There used to be indentured servitude, (possibly a half-step up from a serf). Only the worker is “insubordinate.” Many citizens (who would take umbrage at being called “private servants”) like to remind those working in government that the latter, as “public servants,” work for the former.

      • Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

        There is no end to it! We need a Ministry of TruthSpeak!

  14. Hempenstein
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Also, automotive terminology: Chapter 6 – Hydraulic brake systems. The master cylinder is what’s usually found on the firewall, sending brake fluid to the four wheels when you step on the brakes. What are the cylinders in the wheels called? Wheel cylinders.

    But if you happen to be lucky enough to have a car with standard shift, the clutch mechanism used to always consist of mechanical linkages. Not no more, Bub, nossir. With everything stuffed under the hood, what you now usually find is a hydraulic system operating the throwout mechanism that disengages the clutch. And since it’s hydraulic, it must have a cylinder. And what is that cylinder called? Ermagard!! The slave cylinder.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      No

      ( this is satirical):

      It is actually a word like “apron” which lost part of its pronounciation to something, formerly called “napron”.

      The “slave” cylinder was actually invented by Professor of Hydraulics H. von Slav, of deepest Romania. When they were looking for a way to operate it without directly doing do, they put another Slav cylinder on top. When the lowly techs slaving away asked what they should call it, Meister Boss Professor H. von Slav flippantly replied “Well, the master cylinder of course!”.

      The rest, as they say, is Xerstory.

  15. jezgrove
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    According to Quora, the use of “master” in ” master bedroom” is benign and is in a long tradition (“master beam” etc.) that has no discernable racist or sexist connotations and that it would be “master’s bedroom” if that meaning was intended: https://www.quora.com/Where-did-the-term-master-bedroom-come-from

  16. BJ
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    From the NYT article: “The origins of the term are unclear, but some brokers nonetheless find it offensive and inappropriate.”

    Isn’t that just great? Well, it’s not actually offensive, but we find offense with it anyway, and thus it is so.

    This is like the rash of school renamings in Oregon and Washington a few years ago, where multiple schools named after people with the surname “Lynch” were changed because the surname was…a microaggression, I guess? In some (perhaps all) of the cases, the schools were named after the people who donated the land to start them, or who otherwise contributed to their founding. Unfortunately, recognition for the good deeds of these people had to be taken from them so the emotional comfort of the perpetually offended could be protected.

  17. uommibatto
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Re: what about the Grandmaster title in chess: here’s a recent article commenting on the now-universal rule in chess that White goes first, and Black second:

    https://theconversation.com/does-chess-promote-white-privilege-because-white-always-goes-first-141962

    I thought this was quite a reasonable article. No chessplayers I know see Black and White in chess as anything more than an abstract concept, but I can’t speak for others.

    NM (National Master) Larry Smith

  18. A C Harper
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I defer to the master(!):

    “Those who are determined to be ‘offended’ will discover a provocation somewhere. We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.”

    ― Christopher Hitchens

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      That was a masterful stroke!

  19. mightyog
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    May I offer up the term “woke-washing” for this sort of behavior?

    • Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      It’s good as a specifier, since all woke-washing is virtue-signalling

  20. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Another “no opinion” from me because [1.] I think it is not 100% “racist” and [2.] I figure “meh – (addressed to the real estate community): Go ahead and … (what they said)… do that – see if it helps do (.. what they said )… go ahead! Experiment! Wrote down the conditions and results! SHOW us! And importantly, formulate a null hypothesis!

    Or of course they can do that and see if more money ends up in their banks, which is perhaps cynical but will be an undeniable read out for the business.

  21. Warren Bailey
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    My dachshund Roscoe prefers that it should continue to be referred to as the Master Bedroom at least as long as he’s taking naps on my bed

  22. Curtis
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    My children went to an elementary school formerly known as Jefferson. Last week, in time of coronavirus, the school board decided the most pressing issue was to remove the J-word*. It hasn’t been renamed yet but I am betting on Rosa Parks.

    https://democratherald.com/news/local/education/corvallis-board-votes-to-strike-hoover-jefferson-and-wilson-school-names-begin-renaming-process/article_e7672f5f-bd8d-507f-938f-c2926909a583.html

    The mob scares the heck of out me and I am not voting for any Democrats this year. I am still planning on voting Jo Jorgensen but I am wavering. Trump is a known evil and I have no idea what the mindless elite with no sense of history or liberal principals will do.

    * – A lot of people are taking pictures of their children with the old sign before it disappears.

    • Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      So you prefer Trump because he’s promised not to rename things so much, especially not to the names of historical black figures? Right.

      • Curtis
        Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        I know the evil Trump will do and I hate it. I do not know the evil that progressives will do. Will they defund the police? Will they succeed in banning hate speech? Will their push for a $15 minimum wage end my son’s job? They could be significantly better or significantly worse. It’s a gamble.

        I am planning to vote Jorgensen but Trump is the safe lesser of two evil choice compared to Biden.

        • Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          It’s ridiculous to suggest Biden will do any of those things. He has shown that he works with leaders, scientists, and others. He’s clearly not the ideologue that you suggest he is. On the other hand, Trump continually demonstrates that he doesn’t respect limits placed on him by others and, at the same time, he doesn’t consult with anyone but himself. He’s the prototypical Mad King.

          • Curtis
            Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

            Biden supports a $15 minimum wage. My son finally got a job after graduating high school and will be paid less than that. Will his job go away or will he get a raise?

            Doubling the minimum wage seems like a way to guarantee that poorly educated people will lose jobs. It’s a misguided notion that will hurt many of the people it is designed to help.

            • Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

              There have been studies done in cities that have raised their minimum wage and have found that the fears raised by its opponents have not materialized. I suspect you know this but disagree with it anyway. Just a guess.

              • Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

                I should add that I don’t expect raising the minimum wage to solve many problems and I am against its distorting the free market. It is just nowhere near the issue that its opponents make it out to be and certainly no reason to pick Trump over Biden.

              • Curtis
                Posted August 10, 2020 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

                I expect it to cause massive unemployment in poor places (e.g. inner cities and rural area).

                I prefer a wage subsidy where the federal government pays every worker a bonus (perhaps $3/hour) in addition to what the companies pay. It helps workers without killing industry.

              • Curtis
                Posted August 10, 2020 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

                There are no studies where the minimum wage double ($7.25 to $15.) A minimum wage of $9 or $10 might makes sense but $15 is absurd in poor areas.

        • Keith
          Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          Hi Curtis,
          I urge you to have your Evil-o-Meter serviced immediately. To think Biden comes anywhere close to the corrupt, authoritarian, and dangerously ignorant tendencies of Trump and his enablers is a cognitive distortion of the highest order. You simply have not been paying attention.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      We can only speculate how any kids and families with the name “Jefferson” will feel, keeping their name. Or perhaps they’ll get a group together to voluntarily change their names down at a government office – after emailing everyone with that name. So anyone who doesn’t voluntarily change their name can do so as soon as they can, and post the results on Twi773r so we all know who kept the name.

      • Curtis
        Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I can imagine when Billy Jefferson comes home from school and asked to be renamed Billy Parks after being called a rapist and a racist.

  23. dbflowers
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Some Builders are already moving away from the master bedroom and using the term “owners suite” instead. I think this is more of an evolution of terms and marketing than any acknowlegment of master invoking the thought of servitude. Just like a dining area off the kitchen is now often called the “gathering room” just as family room has become “great room.”

    • Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Here’s what the Perpetually Offended will say to that: “Owners…. of slaves!!! After all, only a few years back it was called a ‘master bedroom'”

  24. Posted August 10, 2020 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Has anyone noticed how racist and sexist the game of chess is? White gets to move first before Black. The highest class chess player is a Grand Master, a combination of a KKK Grand Wizard and the racist/sexist Master.

    OTOH, it is the King that gets mated in the end, not the Queen.

    • meganbalestreriblog
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      They are just colours. If they were red and blue, people would still complain.

  25. Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes I think of the whole woke movement as a cultural “big ask” which they forgot to dial back to something reasonable.

  26. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been saving this comment for an appropriate time – unfortunately I am compelled share it on this posting:

    There’s an excellent YouTube channel for mathematics problems : MindYourDecisions. I highly recommend it. One day, the author/videographer argued that because the Chinese mathematician Gougu developed the formula a^2 + b^2 = c^2 for triangles hundreds of years before the latest dates of the written records of Pythagoras, the formula a^2 + b^2 = c^2 from that date forward will be referred to as The Gougu Theorem, with the language “Pythagorean Theorem” for the formula a^2 + b^2 = c^2 officially ending.

    It’s cool to learn about this fact – that someone developed the idea much earlier than we knew. And that the author and channel are so good at what they do, and I’m not a card-carrying mathematician, I’m stuck with how to settle that – erasing Pythagorean theorem and writing Gougu theorem over it. So I saved it to share when the language and word erasing activities cane up here.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Autocorrect ink-bath :

      “cane” is supposed to be “came” but the funny thing is, I think autocorrect corrected my correction when I started correcting it!

      • Posted August 10, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        Card-carrying mathematician here.

        When citing someone else’s work, I have a rule: I cite the paper from which I learned the result.

        Usage of similar rules eventually leads to associating names to theorems. The name is simply an abbreviation for the statement and perhaps a form of recognition in a particular tradition, but not a statement of historical primacy.

        I see no good reason to change the name and introduce a discontinuity whereby students cannot find references for a given statement in earlier texts.

    • Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      The Pythagorean theorem was known to the Babylonians more than a thousand years before Pythagorus was born, and to the Egyptians even earlier. Gougu is a johnny-come-lately, and I think he copied it from an Indian anyway.

      • phoffman56
        Posted August 10, 2020 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        However, did any of those earlier you mentioned have it in any form other than an empirical observation related to land measurements?

        Of course, a proof from axioms is impressive only to the extent those axioms are acceptable. But the Greeks apparently made enormous intellectual advances compared to what had preceded them, at least as far as I know about earlier knowledge elsewhere.

        • Posted August 10, 2020 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

          Probably not. But then we don’t really know that Pythagoras proved his theorem, even though the rearrangement proof is attributed to him. There is no first hand evidence, just much later second-hand mentions. Some even claim that Pythagoras never existed and, like Jesus Christ, is a later fabrication.

          • jezgrove
            Posted August 10, 2020 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

            Yikes – I just had an image of Jimmy Jesus being nailed to a triangle! (Maybe I should call it a vision and start my own religion – just as soon as I’ve got the bank accounts and tax breaks sorted out…)

          • phoffman56
            Posted August 10, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

            But we do know that it, and many other theorems, were proved, pretty close to completely rigorously, in the book “Euclid”. That’s the real point here for most mathematicians and historians of mathematics.

            Is, ‘..but not elsewhere earlier’ true? We’ll never know absolutely for sure unless the answer is no. But this is humans, not other intelligences elsewhere in the universe!

            It wouldn’t completely surprise me if there seemed to be evidence of a Neanderthal recognition of the 3-4-5 triangle.

            Euclid’s five axioms, except perhaps the equivalent of the parallel postulate, were very nice, straightforward, and ‘believable’. And that postulate had a huge influence on later developments in fundamental science, not just mathematics and logic.

            Not quite perfectly rigorous above mainly because of non-explicit assumptions about
            ‘in-between-ness’, apparently only recognized in the later 1800s. But I may be wrong there and it was earlier.

            • Posted August 10, 2020 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

              My favorite proof is attributed to Einstein, who may or may not have originated it as a teenager. It is simple and elegant.

              From the vertex of a right angle triangle, erect a perpendicular to the hypotenuse. This forms two smaller right angle triangles which are similar to the big triangle with areas that sum to its area and with hypotenuses equal to the lengths of its respective sides. Because the three triangles are similar, the area of each triangle is the same proportion of the area of the square on its hypotenuse. Since the areas sum to the area of the big triangle, the squares on the two constructed triangles sum to the square of the big triangle. QED

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted August 10, 2020 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        typo:

        Pythagoras

    • phoffman56
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      As mentioned below, did the Chinese have anything resembling logical proofs, from axioms of course. I’m being lazy to let you look that up on that website.

      A theorem to a mathematician comes with a proof. Otherwise it’s a conjecture, right?

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted August 10, 2020 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        These interesting points/questions m you and others are bringing up are exactly what I’m looking for. The channel’s comments on the matter usually stalk out at a joke or an opinion. However, the comments on the *problem solving* can usually be found to be very interesting.

        That’s an excellent – and obvious – point, that land measurements might have this appear in the record. I’m gact it’s almost expected, I’d think.

        • phoffman56
          Posted August 10, 2020 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

          Everybody here maybe knows this, but I’ll mention that getting a parallelogram of slats nailed (only one!)at each corner to be a rectangle is most easily done by getting the diagonals to be the same length. But one can check up on that and the parallel pairs of sides actually being equal in length by good old Gougo, or Pythagoras if that’s how you learned it. So your picture frame doesn’t look wonky.

          You can make some very interesting triangles in hyperbolic geometry, the non-Euclidean one which showed the impossibility of proving Euclid’s parallel axiom from the other axioms, and where the sum of a triangle’s three angles is less than, not equal to, 180 degrees.

          It’s also interesting to draw two great circle arcs from the north pole down to the equator, in more-or-less the opposite kind of geometry. If they meet at the top at right angles, with travel along the equator between those two points giving a triangle with all three right angles, so the sum is 270 degrees
          (and many other possibilities bigger than 180) in this geometry. Its result, after scrunching all pairs of antipodes together so that lines only meet in one point (not two as great circles do), gives the opposite called elliptic geometry.

          This stuff was a really big deal for me in later teenage years. Being peculiar like that is one thing that never seems to change.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      The video apparently cites a quote (“The Pythagorean theorem is clearly the wrong name”) from this interview with Princeton Professor and Fields Medalist Manjul Bhargava :

      https://m.rediff.com/news/special/did-india-discover-pythogoras-theorem-a-top-mathematician-answers/20150109.htm

      The video offers no other reasons while chiding viewers to “read up”
      on mathematical history” with some links.

      The video – a nice puzzle : https://youtu.be/oS8yKLdvVYY

      Quote and speaking at 1:52 is about the re-naming.

      • phoffman56
        Posted August 10, 2020 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

        As might be deducible from my earlier belches, the Bhargava interview to me is new and very interesting. And for me the biggest interest is mostly the claim of a PROOF of it in China, with a date that is loose, so might be either before or after proofs were known to the ancient Greeks.

        I’d tend to have complete faith in the statements by that guy, and will try to find which of the many proofs they had in China. The reporter was clearly not going to go into details on that, whether Bhargava gave it or not.

        He’d have a great interest in number theory of course. The complete analysis of integer triples, i.e. sides have integer lengths, like 3,4,5 and 5,12,13, was also commonly credited to ancient Greece but that seems to be changed, and not just recently. You still get ‘little old cranks’ writing to mathematicians about that topic without much knowledge about what has been known for well over two millennia.

        In any case, whatever the dates were, the discoveries in each place were likely independent of each other.

        But just the idea of giving a logical proof, based on reasonable assumptions, especially for geometry, is a very big deal in intellectual history.

  27. Malcolm
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that in the UK Master Bedroom was a term unknown to me until property seeking programs became popular.I had alwaysknownit as the main bedroom whether ensuite or not.

    I amalso finding I can no longer vote in these polls as I now use firefox. Does anyone know why?

    • GBJames
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      I just popped on using Firefox and was able to vote fine. Of course, I’ve not distorted the results. 😉

  28. Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I guess we’ll have to rename the opera, from Die Meistersinger von Nürenberg to … what? Maybe, in english, the principal singers of Nürenberg. (My german isn’t good enough to guess what it might be there.)

  29. phoffman56
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    On the one hand, I was perhaps fortunate about 55 years ago because, as common then in UK, they pushed me in April out of Masters into doctoral work in my first year over there. So the grave embarrassment of listing a masters degree I won’t now face.

    On the other hand, I have been a member of the Canadian Masters nordic ski association (AKA cross country) for about 40 years, and even participated in the yearly World Masters races. “Master” here refers to what I prefer to call ‘old fart’. Mastering getting down a hill really fast and gracefully is another matter entirely–don’t snowplow right in front of me or you might get an accidental pole up the you know where!

    The women members, and my goodness, some of them are rockets, don’t seem to mind being referred to as masters.

  30. Ken Phelps
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Well at least we can all be thankful that masturbation is spelled with a “u” and will not be affected.

    • jezgrove
      Posted August 10, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      It’s too close to both “master” and ” urban ” – it will be doubly cancelled ASAP.

  31. Jon Gallant
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Here is another burning issue of terminology.
    A recent Guardian reports that NASA plans to outlaw offending names in Astronomy, such as the “Eskimo Nebula” and the “Siamese Twins Galaxy”. ” “These nicknames and terms may have historical or culture connotations that are objectionable or unwelcoming, and Nasa is strongly committed to addressing them,” said Stephen Shih, associate administrator for diversity and equal opportunity at Nasa.” Focus on the danger of unwelcoming nebula names is no doubt a major mission for the associate administrator for diversity at NASA. We are fortunate that our universities now train so many individuals for critical assignments of this sort.

    • Posted August 10, 2020 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t think NASA had any responsibility for naming celestial objects. Isn’t that the bailiwick of the International Astronomical Union (IAU)?

  32. ladyatheist
    Posted August 10, 2020 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    A lot of people have been calling it “owner’s” room for some time now.


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