Ubuntero was a term used for members of the Ubuntu community. Specifically it referred to people who had signed the Ubuntu Code of Conduct and thereby agreed to abide by it. It was adopted some time in 2005 and dropped in December 2008 after discussion of its gender implications.
-ero suffix in Spanish
The -ero suffix of "Ubuntero" strikes people with knowledge of Spanish as making it an exclusively male-gendered word. Spanish is a Romance language (a term for the group of Latin-descended languages including Spanish, Portuguese, French and several others) and in these languages nouns describing a man doing or being something may differ from the equivalent noun for a woman. For example: profesor (male teacher) and profesora (female teacher), programador (male programmer) and programadora (female programmer). When they are constructed this way these are not ever ambiguous between genders (except when pluralised) and it strikes a speaker of the language as strange and incorrect to use the male term for a woman, and vice versa. (There is a singular gender neutral construction with the suffix -ista, and it is used for practitioners of some professions eg dentista, artista.)
"Ubuntero" was coined by English speakers of various backgrounds, aware of the Spanish origin of the suffix. ("Ubuntu" itself is a word from the Bantu languages of southern Africa.)
Ubuntu community discussion
The Ubuntu Community Council considered the term "Ubuntero" and alternatives such as "Ubuntite" in 2005 and although the gender problems with the term were discussed, it was adopted. The wider Ubuntu community discussed it in April 2008 and was divided on whether "Ubuntero" was unacceptable to describe Ubuntu community members in English given the issue of it sounding male-gendered to any English speaker with a knowledge of Spanish.
In December 2008 the term "Ubuntero" was discontinued although Matt Zimmerman observed in July 2009 that it had not yet been removed from all software and documentation. This was corrected shortly thereafter.
Arguments for change
- if it feels gender-specific, a better alternative should be found, regardless of the intention of the original coinage here
- the name definitely has this problem when used in the Spanish translation of any Ubuntu/Launchpad documentation or text, forcing the Spanish translators to find a suitable alternative even if the English writers don't (Ubuntista, with the gender-neutral -ista suffix, is usually suggested)
- Spanish speakers, especially women, find the term odd even when used in English here here and here
- Mangling Spanish together with the Zulu/Xhosa word "Ubuntu" is cultural appropriation in any case here and here
Arguments against change
- English typically does not observe the original language's form changes (called "morphology" in linguistics) once a borrowed word is absorbed into English (for example, borrowed words usually still take the regular English -s suffix to form the plural) here
- Unless a gender neutral variant is adopted, using a grammatically feminine variant to refer to female users would require them to register their gender on the site, which is presently not an option and which many women do not want to do here
- The gender neutral variant Ubuntista sounds female to (some) English speakers here
- It is very difficult, possibly impossible, to find a word that will not be coded as specifically male or specifically female in some language here here here
- Some women who spoke Spanish natively did not find the term problematic here
The discussion was relatively free of silencing attempts, possibly due to the participation of core Ubuntu members such as Mark Shuttleworth and Matthew East, but there were a few:
- "do not care about the gender neutrality of a nonexistent word... best part of this whole thing was waking up to 27 messages in my blackberry email inbox o_O" here
- "It is my understanding that in the Romance languages, even a chair or table has gender... From my limited studies of French, it seems gender assignment is somewhat arbitrary, though, and I can't help but wonder whether we're taking all of this too seriously." here (note that grammatical gender works like this for inanimate objects, but in the case of people it is linked to their physical/social gender identity)
- "This is actually considered a 'Bug'...??!! Sorry as a 'female', 'woman' and any other term used to described someone of my gender type (TIC!!) I really fail to see the need to make such a big fuss about language nuances when I am sure there are plenty of other 'Bugs' in Ubuntu that deserve a lot more attention..." here
- "This sounds like trying to change the word "manager" to something else because someone says having "man" in there makes it sexist....guess we better start changing our man pages to something else, like doc pages..." here
- Jeff Waugh enthusiastically describes the term but notes that grammatical gender was already an issue, at least with borrowings from Latin May 2005
- Ubuntu Community Council discusses the term in December 2005
- Launchpad integrates the term into their software December 2005
- A bug is filed against Ubuntu in April 2008
- Ubuntu Community Council abandons the term in a meeting in December 2008
- See Nonsexist language for general background on this issue.