Words Matter: Why We’re Retiring an Outdated Term

The term “master bedroom” has been used for decades to describe the largest bedroom in a home. It’s usually the biggest and nicest bedroom, often including expansive closet space and an ensuite bathroom. The term “master” may seem innocuous in the context of a room; however, with its historical ties to slavery and patriarchal undertones, REALTORS are re-examining industry nomenclature as it relates to this term. Words matter, and it may be time for a small but meaningful change in how we talk about the biggest bedroom in a home. 

 

Origins of “Master Bedroom”

The term “master bedroom” first appeared commercially in the early 20th century to describe the largest bedroom in an expensive home. The exact contextual intention of the phrase in that first use is debatable; however, the racist legacy and sexist connotations of the word “master” are indisputable. 

The word is commonly associated with the exploitative relationship between “master” and “slave,” but it’s also evocative of another outdated idea. The “master of the household” would traditionally have been the man—in today’s egalitarian society, the word is clearly no longer appropriate. 

The actual term “master” comes from the Latin magister meaning chief, head, or director. Still, when using it to describe an area of privilege in a home, the connections to vestiges of the antebellum period and ties to gender-specific hierarchy become difficult to disentangle. At Stilhavn, we’ve decided that it’s a legacy we no longer want to perpetuate.

 

What Inspired the Change?

The catalyst for this change in terminology came in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year. The demonstrations called for dismantling systemic racism across all levels of society and lasted well through the summer, capturing the consciousness of entire populations along the way. Though the movement began in the United States, it soon spread to Canada and around the world.

This movement comes at a time of great social change. As a society, many of us are spending more time on careful and critical self-reflection, pushing ourselves and others towards becoming a more progressive and just society. As evidence of this change, language is evolving to adapt, and its importance cannot be underestimated. 

Language affects how we think, even if unconsciously, and has important implications for the way we shape society. Increasingly, we’ve seen previously standard discriminatory terms replaced with non-offensive, egalitarian, inclusive terms. Yesterday’s “fireman” is now more commonly known as a “firefighter,” while “waitresses” and “waiters” are now “servers.” 

We’ve come a long way in building a more democratic society, but we are still working on democratizing our language. Thankfully we have the power and the freedom to do so. 

 

Racism is a Canadian Problem Too

As we move towards more inclusive and less harmful language, it’s essential to reflect on Canada’s own colonial legacy and troubled history of discrimination. One of the hallmarks of Canadian identity is multiculturalism, symbolizing inclusivity and diversity. This welcoming spirit should also be extended to the language we use. 

Though a familiar term may not seem offensive at first, when we stop to think about it from someone else’s perspective, our attitudes can change quickly. The Edmonton Eskimos, for example, recently announced they will be dropping the word “Eskimo” from their team name, as it is offensive to northern indigenous Canadians. As we continue to move towards more egalitarian language, it costs us nothing to be more considerate with our words.

 

Moving Towards “Primary” or “Principal” Bedroom

Dismantling systemic racism is complex, and we know we have a long road ahead of us, but the language we use is an effective place to start. In recent years, replacing the term “master bedroom” has been an ongoing discussion throughout the real estate industry. Though there is no singular consensus in the field, we at Stilhavn will no longer be using the term, and we encourage others to join us in making this change. 

Going forward, we will use the terms “primary” or “principal bedroom” to describe the largest bedroom in a home. At Stilhavn, we are committed to leading by example, learning with humility, and striving towards excellence and inclusiveness at all levels. Always.

 

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