Rejecting master for main

Recently, I launched a new open-source project. Unofficially called the Last First Letter Collab, the story is built using a writing pattern: a sentence’s first word must begin with the previous sentence’s last word’s last letter.

While creating the repo on GitHub, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the default branch, heretofore always named master, was now called main.

We all know that words carry power. A person’s word choice can make or break a conversation, a motto, or even a simple salutation. Calling a group of people “guys“ or narrowing down a tough choice by singsonging “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” can carry unintentional maliciousness. Seeing GitHub taking action with word choice, I decided to replace the default branch of this website’s repo from master to main.

Doing this is surprisingly straightforward. GitHub plans to retroactively apply this naming convention to existing repos around the end of 2020, but I preferred not to wait. As the sole contributor to my humble Hugo blog, this update was 100% painless. I found a solid tutorial on Git Tower (despite not using the product – sorry!), but to save you a click, here are the highlights:

  1. Replace your local master with main git branch -m master main
  2. Rename your remote master git push -u origin main
  3. Delete the remote master (You’ll probably need to reset the repo’s default branch on GitHub itself before remote deletion will be successful) git push origin --delete master

In the big picture — hell, even in the very, very small picture — my changing master to main doesn’t matter, per se. It doesn’t change centuries of systemic racism. It cannot undo the innumerable (and completely avoidable) police shootings across the US. It’s barely a gesture, but it isn’t nothing.

Words carry power. Using terminology with racist origins or undertones isn’t okay. And to me, the normalized words and phrases — master, gypped, peanut gallery, selling someone down the river — are worse because most people don’t know (and don’t care to know) where they came from.

If you’re looking for a few podcasts on word origins, consider this episode of The Allusionist, in which another podcast, Rough Translation, features.

There are so many small things we can do to erase little bits of prejudice from our world. So if I can move beyond the words with a few terminal commands, why wouldn’t I?

This post originally appeared on John’s personal site on October 18, 2020.