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Cisco: Don't use 'blind spot' – and do use 'feed two birds with one scone'

Switchzilla takes a stab at inclusive language. Sorry, that should be 'makes a first pass'

If you like this story, don't say it blows you away. And if you don't like it, please don't give your correspondent a kicking.

Instead, refer to a Cisco blog post from last week that outlines the networking giant's view on "Inclusive Leadership via Language".

The post points out that language matters.

"Why practice inclusive language? Simply put, to bring your team together," wrote Maulie Dass, global lead for Cisco's Innovation Labs. "We may never truly know people's histories, and what you consider unimportant may be a barrier to progress for another person," she added.

Dass therefore tries to use inclusive language – a topic the tech industry considered in 2020 and 2021 when it was realized that terms like "blacklist" and "hanging processes" were off-putting or offensive.

An Inclusive Naming Initiative with representatives of many big tech companies quickly formed and set about defining a dictionary of terms that describe common computing cant without also referring to violence, gender, or racial stereotypes.

As a result, VMware stopped referring to "male" and "female" hardware, and Splunk decided that software "freezes" rather than "hanging".

Linux kernel lead developer Linus Torvalds signed off on language standards that replaced terms like "master" and "slave" with alternatives such as "primary" and "secondary" relationships, "leaders" and "followers", or even "directors" and "performers".

Dass's post revisits much of the debate that went into the changes outlined above, adding her preference to avoid terms that connote ability and disability. "This includes terms like 'handicapped' or using medical conditions in a derogatory way (e.g., 'I'm so ADHD today,' and 'blind spot')," she wrote.

The post also includes a list of violent language to avoid, and suggested replacements.

"That'll kill two birds with one stone" is suggested as not suitable to remain in your vocabulary, with "That'll feed two birds with one scone" preferred.

We have so many questions about that one. What size birds? Is it safe for birds to eat scones? Is that a nasty crunchy American scone, or a delightful and fluffy British scone? With or without strawberry jam? Ditto cream? And is the cream on top, or the jam?

But we digress. Biting the bullet, jumping the gun, taking a stab at something, pulling the trigger, and rolling with the punches are all suggested as phrases you might consider retiring. Instead try "not avoiding any longer", "starting too soon", "making a first pass", "launching", and "just moving forward".

Cisco's post arrives at a tricky cultural moment, as brewer Anheuser-Busch learned when it recently celebrated a transgender customer and found itself the target of consumer boycotts and a vivid social media campaign in which some people shot at cans of the company's beers to protest the promo.

The tech industry seems more comfortable with inclusive themes. A recent post to the Inclusive Naming Initiative mailing list asked if inactivity in the group indicated it had wound up.

The lack of recent posts was attributed to the initiative having succeeded. "I think it's reasonable to declare victory and move on," was one response. ®

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