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Should the illegal “master/slave” dyad be used as teaching paradigm to explain the relationship between electronic circuits?

The “master/slave” dyad has been outlawed for centuries, e.g. Slave Trade Act 1807 (UK), Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (UK), and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery 1865. This stance was bolstered in the aftermath of World War 2 with the creation of the United Nations and the International Convention on Human Rights where initially many nations signed up to them. Currently, most nations are signed up and, as a corollary, have implemented binding laws within their respective jurisdictions to declare the "master/slave" dyad to be illegal.

Yet in recent decades, with the invention of electronic circuits, this illegal dyad has been used as a teaching paradigm by a vanishingly small minority of people to explain the relationship between circuits.

In recent months, MIPI and NXP updated their communications protocols to replace the illegal “master/slave” dyad with “controller/target.”

Should electronics.stackexchange.com wait for “consensus on Meta” before complying with international law?

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    \$\begingroup\$ MIPI and NXP may have updated their communications, but the rest of the world hasn't yet. If many of them choose to follow this path, your question would have merit. However, as-is, I think it's premature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mast
    Nov 7, 2021 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mast, MIPI and NXP updated their communications in June and October of this year, so there’s no “may” about it. \$\endgroup\$
    – tim
    Nov 8, 2021 at 0:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mast, the rest of the world updated their communications long before these protocols were invented, making my question presciently overdue. \$\endgroup\$
    – tim
    Nov 8, 2021 at 0:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Enslaving a person is illegal. Using the word "slave" to describe electronics is not illegal. Those are two different things. This question seems to conflate the two of them. Using the word "slave" might not be a good idea; it might be immoral; but it's legal, and attempts to insinuate or imply that it might be illegal are not helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – D.W.
    Nov 8, 2021 at 5:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is complete & utter nonsense. Using the words "master" and "slave" is not illegal. Describing a relationship between two devices as a master-slave relationship is not illegal. Referring to a device as a master or as a slave is not illegal. In fact even using these same words to describe people and relationships between them is not illegal. The only point you venture into the realm of the illegal is when you as a person (not a device) make a slave of another person (also not a device) against their will. \$\endgroup\$
    – brhans
    Nov 9, 2021 at 3:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please feel free to report any use of those terms to the police, local or otherwise. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Nov 9, 2021 at 9:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Usage from Google NGram viewer. Note that changing the Corpus (source) option can greatly affect the distribution. books.google.com/ngrams/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Nov 9, 2021 at 9:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you please link to any sort of documentation that specifically says that referring to electronic devices or circuits as master/slave is illegal as you seem to think? What a ridiculous question \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Nov 9, 2021 at 15:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Slavery itself has been outlawed in many places but the term "master/slave" isn't illegal even when describing human slavery, let alone its use in electronics or IT. \$\endgroup\$
    – Graham Nye
    Nov 10, 2021 at 21:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ if you want to get offended, you can get offended on anything in this world. For eg: "Beagle Bone Black". Why do they colorize an embedded board errrrr... \$\endgroup\$
    – Mitu Raj
    Nov 11, 2021 at 18:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am closing this question as discussed with SamGibson who will post their own question so the community can have a discussion about this topic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bella_Blue StaffMod
    Nov 15, 2021 at 18:27

3 Answers 3

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You have already been told that we (mods) have been drafting something for discussion here on Meta regarding this.

Your claims about electronics terminology breaking the law, are interesting but unsubstantiated. The terms might not be allowed when addressed to people (I haven't read those laws, but let's assume that point "ad argumentum") I see no evidence that it is illegal to describe an electronic signal as a "slave signal".

Indeed, according to your claims, I2C was illegal from its inception as it postdates the laws you refer to, but (until the recent change in October 2021) it used Master / Slave terminology. You can take that up with NXP.

To answer your specific question:

Should electronics.stackexchange.com wait for “consensus on Meta”

Yes, in this Meta.SE post entitled: What is Stack Exchange's official stance on words such as "black list", "white list", "master", "slave", and so on?, the official answer includes the point:

We are not going to institute any sort of network ban on the use of these terms, and will leave it in the hands of the moderators and the Community to decide on the appropriate usages of these terms on the different sites throughout the network, both for new content, and for legacy content.

We were choosing to draft a Meta topic, to follow that SE official guidance.

Originally, you have flagged your question as "mod abuse", but that has now been reviewed and not substantiated, so the tag has been removed and the mods will carry on as planned.

If you believe that we are behaving illegally, then you must tell SE. Their contact link is at the bottom of the page. The same is true if you want to claim that there has been mod abuse - contact SE directly.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ “You can take that up with NXP.” As you are aware, I first raised this issue in the early 1990s as soon as it came to my attention, and I have been highlighting it ever since. Philips/NXP were made aware of my position during a job interview for them in the 1990s; and they have responded appropriately. I wonder if they still have the video tape of the group assessment. I was the group spokesperson. \$\endgroup\$
    – tim
    Nov 8, 2021 at 0:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ “To answer your specific question:” You chopped off the second half of my second specific question. I wasn’t referring to the general perfectly legal and moral business-as-usual as your edit makes it appear. \$\endgroup\$
    – tim
    Nov 8, 2021 at 0:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ “If you believe that we are behaving illegally, then you must tell SE.” SE have already been notified. The nub of the issue is whether it is legally and morally acceptable to use an internationally recognised illegal dyad as a teaching paradigm, as per my first specific question which you dodged in favour of holding out for the fanciful notion of “consensus on Meta.” \$\endgroup\$
    – tim
    Nov 8, 2021 at 0:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @tim - "You chopped off the second half of my second specific question." Yes, because I see no evidence to support your claim, in the context of electronic devices, that Electronics.SE is not already "complying with international law". The pointed phraseology in your 2nd question is coming across as a strawman argument, and I chose not to address the strawman. \$\endgroup\$
    – SamGibson Mod
    Nov 8, 2021 at 2:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Personally I find your position confusing. You repeatedly claim that use of the terms master/slave is illegal, even applied to "electronic circuits", but you don't link to a specific section, in a specific law which substantiates that claim. Then you explain that it took NXP over 20 years (from the 1990s to 2021) to alter their I2C specification wording, and you say that they "responded appropriately". Since that is your measure (> 20 years) of an appropriate response, your repeated attempts to drive change here just a few weeks after NXP changed their wording, seem unreasonably fast! \$\endgroup\$
    – SamGibson Mod
    Nov 8, 2021 at 2:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Added to that, large electronics corporations have used the terms master/slave for decades in that context, without visible lawsuits, which tends to raise doubts about the claimed illegality of the use of the terms master/slave in that context. || I am not saying that nothing should change. However I am saying that such aggressive, but so far unsubstantiated, claims of illegality on Electronics.SE don't help with a reasoned discussion. \$\endgroup\$
    – SamGibson Mod
    Nov 8, 2021 at 2:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ "The terms might not be allowed when addressed to people (I haven't read those laws, but let's assume that point "ad argumentum")" Let's not. As I'm in the UK the relevant part of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 outlaws slavery. It doesn't outlaw the term "master/slave" even for human slavery, never mind the (yet-to-be-invented) use for electronic communication, database replication or any other technical use unrelated to human slavery. cc @Tim \$\endgroup\$
    – Graham Nye
    Nov 10, 2021 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Philips/NXP were made aware of my position during a job interview for them in the 1990s; and they have responded appropriately." -- does this mean that you weren't hired?? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 11, 2021 at 18:58
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If we are to discuss the use of master/slave terminology, we should address it because some people consider it inflammatory language, racially insensitive, or simply that it makes them feel bad in some way. I have my own opinions on the matter, but regardless of those, that is a legitimate debate.

There is nothing illegal about using the term. The language simply does not constitute an "illegal dyad". I'd go so far as to call the very premise silly.

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We had someone reach out asking for our stance on this so we decided to pop in for some clarification— We think this is an appropriate discussion to have but we do not think it was approached in a constructive way.

We are leaving this answer so that you know how the company feels and so it may be a sign post for future discussions. We recommend this question is locked and once a new more constructive question is asked we will repost this. 


We as Community Managers cannot give legal advice but our own stance on this issue is, as a company, we have ceased from using these terms. Concerns about possibly illegal material on SE should be forwarded to our legal team.


We as CMs prefer to empower communities to come their own decisions on topics like this as a collective. We hope that together you can make a decision that is best fitting for all users.

While I know at this moment that may seem daunting, we have faith that this community can hear all arguments, for and against, and come to a fair agreed upon resolution.

Again we are here if you should need us, and hope this clarifies our position.

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