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Another inappropriate B-word (#1256)

Topics/tags: Language, Rants

I try to be careful about the language I use, particularly language that others may find offensive or harmful. I don’t always succeed. But I try. It’s not a matter of political correctness; rather, I think we owe others the respect to consider their experience of language. Since I care about word use, I must admit that I sometimes get offended when others are not equally considerate, even if I’m not the one harmed by the language. But I need to learn to acknowledge that others might not realize that their words could cause harm.

This past weekend, my experiences made me reflect on these issues again.

I spent most of Saturday skimming through my share of the 700+ paper submissions to the 2024 ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium to determine if they met conference requirements regarding length, content, and anonymity. I was surprised to see how many papers included the B word. No, not that one. The ableist one. The one that, in the context of a research paper, usually means anonymized or redacted.

Blind, by itself, is not a slur. Many people identify as blind or as people with blindness. But it can be offensive to use the term to suggest that information is missing. And, as the Association of Computing Machinery suggests [1], the use of blind to mean anonymous can imply that blind people are anonymous.

I lack the skills to appropriately phrase exactly how problematic people can find the term. Fortunately, The American Psychological Association has an excellent ’blog post on the topic [2]. In short, don’t use blind except to refer to people who lack vision, and only use it in the way the people you are speaking about prefer.

As I said, I was surprised at how many papers included the terms blind or blinded, even in the headers of pages. And it bothered me. Should it have? I can’t change how I feel. And the professional society that sponsors our conference has an explicit statement on these terms. We’re also careful with terminology on the conference site. But blind review and double-blind are long-standing terms. I believe intent matters, and I can’t imagine our community intends offense. So I should let it pass.

But next year? Next year, we’re posting more explicit guidance. ACM policy disallows the use of blind to mean anonymous. Something like that. If I have my way, we’ll require rewrites of any submissions that use blind or blinded inappropriately.

[1] Association of Computing Machinery (2023). Words Matter: Alternatives for Charged Terminology in the Computing Profession. Web page, available at

[2] Ades, Rachel (20 February 2020). An End to Blind Review. Blog of the APA. Available at

Version 1.0 of er2023-08-21.