For the same reasons we now say mail carrier or postal worker instead of mailman, words have social impact. Like many other fields, the real estate and home design industries have also moved to replace sexist, racist, and otherwise inappropriate language with more sensitive and inclusive terms.
According to a New York Times article on this subject, the term master bedroom was first used in a 1925 advertisement selling plans for a Sears Roebuck catalog home. Many believe that the term master bedroom referred to sleeping quarters of slave owners; however, in the mid-nineties, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determined that the term was not discriminatory or violated any fair housing laws.
Even so, the term is certainly sexist. As such, realtors and designers have stopped using this expression to describe the largest bedroom in a home. Instead, we are calling it the main, principle, or primary bedroom. Master suite, indicating the largest bedroom and accompanying bath, has a new name, too; today it is called an en suite, owner’s suite, or, depending on its size, an owner’s retreat.
Here is a short list of other outdated, loaded language (and their more equitable replacements):
Bachelor pad: Many gender-specific terms have been eliminated; a more sensitive description might label it as the perfect small home for a single person or first-time buyer.
Family room, nursery, and playroom: Once used to attract the traditional nuclear family, these are now identified as secondary living spaces, additional bedrooms, or bonus rooms, respectively.
Handy-man special: This gender-specific terminology has been replaced by fixer-upper. In the same vein, I recall seeing ads years back to “invite Martha Stewart and Laura Ashley” to help decorate the home.
His ‘n hers/Jack ‘n Jill closets or sinks: Since some homeowners are single and not all partnerships are heterosexual, these terms have been replaced by dual closets and sinks.
Kid-friendly neighborhood: While not every homeowner has children, this designation is no longer used.
Man-cave and she-shed: These are called entertaining or hobby spaces, media centers, meditation rooms, or home offices today.
Mother-in-law suite: Because this might be used by an adult child or other relative, today this is an independent living or shared space.
Walk-up: Thought to be insensitive to those in wheelchairs or with other mobility issues, realtors advertise such homes as residing in non-elevator buildings.
Walking distance to X: For the same reason as above, realtors now indicate the number of blocks to desirable locales like restaurants, transportation, and shopping.
It is more than quibbling over semantics; words have power. I love this quote by Confucius, “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.”
Barbara Graceffa owns and operates Secretary of the Interior in Quincy, MA offering creative solutions at reasonable rates. Learn more about her decorating, downsizing, decluttering and home décor sewing services, decorating workshops, and quilt programs and shows at www.sec-interior.com, and enjoy her art quilts on Instagram @secretaryinteriordecorating. You can reach her at 617.921.6033.