Twitter Engineers Share List of Terms They'll Swap Out to Be More Inclusive

In a tweet, engineers from Twitter revealed new language that they'll be using for coding terms, ditching old terms that are less inclusive.

We’re starting with a set of words we want to move away from using in favor of more inclusive language, such as:

— Twitter Engineering (@TwitterEng) July 2, 2020

The list of terms that the engineers said they'd be leaving behind are often gendered, racially insensitive or derogatory towards mental wellness. Terms such as "whitelist" and "blacklist" are going to be phased out, in favor of the words "allowlist" and "denylist," respectively.

Some of the more alarming terms are "master/slave," which refer to a device or process that controls other devices or processes and the device or process that's being controlled. Those are being updated to "leader/follower," "primary/replica" or "primary/standby."

Gendered terms like "grandfathered in" and "man hours" will be changed to "legacy status" and "person hours" or "engineer hours." And terms like "sanity check" and "dummy value" are being replaced by terms like "quick check" and "placeholder value," respectively.

In a Twitter thread, the Twitter Engineering account wrote that the old language does not reflect the company's values. "Inclusive language plays a critical role in fostering an environment where everyone belongs," the message reads. "At Twitter, the language we have been using in our code does not reflect our values as a company or represent the people we serve. We want to change that."

The company tweeted that it would begin the process of updating its systems and resources to reflect the new, inclusive language. Currently, the social media platform is focusing on migrating its source code, identifying the problematic language in code and updating to the new, inclusive terms and changing the language throughout internal documents, FAQs, Google Docs and more.

Twitter also added that it's implementing a process that will allow employees to identify words that are problematic and suggest alternatives.

The company said that these types of changes are not limited to engineering terms or code. "Words matter in our meetings, our conversations, and the documents we write. We know there's still a lot of work to do, but we're committed to doing our part," the thread concluded.

The change was spearheaded by the engineering team's Regy Augustin and Kevin Oliver. Twitter head of engineering Michael Montano tweeted that the two had worked on this process over the past six months. "The work the team is doing here will inform a larger workstream underway to guide our language to be more inclusive, and more human, as a company," Montano said in a statement.

We want to share our learnings and approach to help others in the industry learn from Twitter and adopt inclusive language as well. This is a hugely important initiative that impacts more than just Twitter.

— Michael Montano (@michaelmontano) July 2, 2020

Augustin tweeted that he had been inspired to work towards changing the language when he saw the line "automatic slave rekick" in an email. Despite having seen the term in computer science classes, Augustin said that he was bothered by it and wanted to make changes.

"I spent our upcoming hackweek and the months following creating a linter for exclusionary language with lots of help along the way. I had a proof of concept but didn't know how to gather company-wide attention," he wrote in a tweet, saying that he eventually teamed up with Oliver for the project. "We got to work on some tenets for our orgs, Platform and Cortex, to start. We wanted to create an initial list of terms to replace with inclusive ones in code, docs, or configs."

Our goal here is to apply this language to all of eng, and eventually adopt inclusive language across Twitter. I know this is a small step, but it’s one that keeps us on the path to improving the industry.

— Regynald (@negroprogrammer) July 2, 2020

He said the work eventually led to the list. Augustin wrote that even though this is just a start, it was key to bringing about larger, more important changes. "I know this is a small step, but it's one that keeps us on the path to improving the industry," he tweeted.

The Twitter logo is seen on a phone in this photo illustration in Washington, DC, on July 10, 2019. ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP/Getty