Some people believe that the term master bedroom is racist. Slavery was abhorrent, but let me disagree about the term and make my case.

According to, master bedroom originated in the early 20th century—“a room reserved for the master of the home.” states, “The 1926 Sears catalog marks the first recorded use of the phrase  . . .” Today, many real estate agents, fearing giving offense, use the term primary bedroom

A question must be asked: Does master inherently refer to slavery? If so, Americans face a major linguistic conundrum.

Do we erase the word master from the English language? Perhaps we jettison only the noun form. If so, what do I call my master’s degree? Did I earn an NSAABD?—Next Step Above a Bachelor’s Degree? Is a change due for the lyrics of that great song in the musical classic Les Miserables, “Master of the House?” Is there a ring to “Primary of the House?” What about the title of Henrik Ibsen’s play, “The Master Builder?” Will we search in vain for master plumbers and electricians? How will we refer to chess grandmasters!

Should the verb form also be dismissed? Will no one ever again master a foreign language or the baking of a souffle? 

The far left demands a heavy scrubbing of the English language, just as the far right’s culture saviors seek to cleanse school and public libraries of books they deem offensive. What’s next?

Once, something really great was boss. We know that field bosses on horses—rifles and whips in hand—terrorized slaves. Granted, many words for really great have followed. (Don’t ask me. I stopped with cool.) Still, problems remain. Can Bruce Springsteen fans still hail him as The Boss?

The next time someone claims a vehicle’s front passenger seat, they better not cry out, “I’ve got shotgun.” Field bosses and slave chasers carried shotguns. And when it comes to marketing decisions, better stick with a highly targeted rifle approach. A shotgun approach won’t cut it.

Congressional and legislative leadership positions also will have to change titles. Party whips maintain discipline, urge every party legislator to vote the party position. Call them enforcers? Sounds like the Mob. Will sports reporters be allowed to write, “Last night, the Mastodons whipped the Dandelions?” Will ice cream sundaes be denuded of whipped cream?

Politically correct people no longer will hang with each other. Lynching was all too common in these United States. No one will hang a picture. Or work at a task until they get the hang of it.

Slavery and the atrocities committed against African Americans following the Civil War remain a blot on our nation. We have much work to do to bring more African Americans into the mainstream, end all forms of racism. But purging our language of otherwise innocent words only muddies the waters. The Civil Rights movement emphasized, “Eyes on the prize.” Eyes on the dictionary cloud the vision of justice and equality.

So, if I refer to a master bedroom or master suite, take a breath and put the use of American English into context. We have more important issues to master.

Disclosure: I sleep in the mistress bedroom. When I’m not in the doghouse.

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  1. Penelope De Paoli on September 16, 2022 at 11:08 am

    Wonderfully written. I will henceforth call my bedroom the mistress’s room. But master bedroom is solidly ensconced in English. Good god don’t we have more important things to fix?

    • David Perlstein on September 16, 2022 at 11:13 am

      Penny, so many good causes become sidetracked with foolishness. “Eyes on the prize” remains sound advice.

  2. RONALD EATON on September 16, 2022 at 11:46 am

    “a room reserved for the master of the home.” So now we know that the term is only patriarchal and misogynistic. Glad that’s cleared-up.

    • David Perlstein on September 16, 2022 at 12:17 pm

      Yes, Ron, master is masculine. If women object, they have a point. But it isn’t patriarchy that has stirred cries agains “master bedroom.” So, I’m open to this discussion on grounds that women have been given short shrift. Now, what about all the other uses of the word? Will I be reissued a Mistress of Arts degree?

  3. Susan E Shapiro on September 16, 2022 at 12:22 pm

    As much as it hurts me to say it, I’m afraid I have to agree w/ Ron. As a woman, it comforts me not at all to know the phrase “master bedroom” didn’t, in fact, harken back to slavery, that it “only” refers to the “master of the house.” As Ron said, “Glad that’s cleared up.’

    Shabbat Shalom

    • David Perlstein on September 16, 2022 at 12:38 pm

      I take your point, Susan. And Ron’s. I’ll also reiterate that if we want to change the term, let’s do it to eliminate misogyny, not conflate the term with slavery. Personally, Carolyn and I sleep in “our room.”

  4. jean wright on September 16, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    I also have to add that I am not the mistress of anything……

    • David Perlstein on September 16, 2022 at 4:04 pm

      Ah, Jean—could you still be a master of something?

  5. Tracy on September 17, 2022 at 8:57 am

    As someone married to a girl boss, and a lifelong dandelion supporter — I am offended by the S&M reference when we lose a particular game. We much prefer “wood chipped.”

    • David Perlstein on September 17, 2022 at 9:11 am

      Tracy, you have contributed much to the conversation—in some way I’m still trying to figure out.

  6. Sandy Lipkowitz on September 17, 2022 at 4:34 pm

    I think this whole language thing has gotten out of hand. For some people to attach their bias to a word and proclaim they are the only ones, who have it right, is pompous.

    Master bedroom doesn’t have to refer to a man or a slave driver. It’s the most prominent bedroom in a house. there fore it is the master (excuse the expression) of the other bedrooms. Not of slaves or women.

    When I was young, gay was a synonym for happy carefree. Now no one uses that word unless referring to a homosexual man.

    There are more important causes to put energy into.

    • David Perlstein on September 17, 2022 at 5:54 pm

      Agreed, Sandy. Eyes on the prize!

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