Context - As part of my job, I write engineering design documents. I tend to have each document's subtitle reflect something about the feature. For one document, I used a subtitle of "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley". This is the original wording of the more commonly known "the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry". The feature is security related so this seems appropriate.

Concern - A reviewer suggested I change the line to replace 'men' with 'people', to make it more inclusive. When I explained the line is a quote, the reviewer replied that I should use a more inclusive quote.

Question - Is there a real inclusiveness issue with including this quote as a document subtitle, or is this reviewer picking nits? (note, I am not asking if the quote should be removed - I am asking if the expressed concern over inclusiveness is reasonable in this situation)

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    A apt response might be "O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!, It wad frae mony a blunder free us" – Laconic Droid Jan 29 '19 at 1:53
  • And I don't like that reference to gangs :-) – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jan 29 '19 at 7:24
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    And "a-gely" sounds like "ugly", which is offensive to us differently-prettied people! – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jan 29 '19 at 7:25
  • Ach, mon, ther's nae need tae be sleekit, cow'rin' 'n' tim'rous, ye ken? – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jan 29 '19 at 7:29
  • It really seems like it would be a lot easier to say "sure, I'll change the title so as to make it more clear, thanks for you feedback" - then change the sub-title so something more specific and that isn't a quote, and then open the section itself with a properly attributed quote in full so it is more clear in-context. Or in most review processes you can ignore a comment you think is daft and only address important, substantive changes and hope the person in charge of the process has more sense. – BrianH Jan 29 '19 at 18:07

Sounds like the sort of person who would want Neil Armstrong's quote changed to "One small step for a human, a giant leap for humankind"...

It would be different if the original quote was actually offensive. I'd argue that it's not understandable to the average person, but not that it's offensive.

You can't necessarily have both 'inclusiveness' and 'accurate historical quotes'. One of them would have to give way. I'm in favor of not changing history.


It is your document, your work and your title AND it's a quote.

As long as it's safe for work, not breaking any laws or company policies your pc police colleague may go and procreate with themselves

If you don't want to change it and keep recognisability intact...

...Just ignore it.

If the snowflake has a wee bit of a meltdown, just say you decided to stick with Robert Burns' original quote.

Regarding the core of your question:

There are countries where, in special cases, inclusiveness is required by law.

These cases usually are limited to official government documents, legal paperwork, teaching curriculae and job postings.

Your document is neither.

Further, quotes should be used accurately (without changes), that's what makes them quotes, a passage of text attributed to someone who is not the author of the text being written.

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    This is wrong. Regardless of whether you and I think "gender-neutral language is silly", the fact is and observably humans in the workplace may prefer gender-neutral language. Note that the OP would not write the report using traditional-language. So it is absolutely fatuous to use a historic quote ("One small step..." is the perfect example) which uses traditional gender language. The quote is nothing - a bit of window dressing. Pick another one. – Fattie Jan 29 '19 at 13:59
  • @Fattie - "humans" or "hupeople"? – Laconic Droid Jan 29 '19 at 14:29
  • @LaconicDroid Morlocks, Eloi maybe? (; I would prefer gender unspecified sentient entities or simply meatbags pethaps.I mean, homo sapiens is also out of the question...now we just need to make sure everyone speaks english... – DigitalBlade969 Jan 29 '19 at 15:33
  • @Fattie I think you wanted to post this comment to PeteCon's answer (; – DigitalBlade969 Jan 29 '19 at 15:41

It looks like you've just got the quote there, with no obvious sign that it's a quote. Attribute it to Robert Burns to be clear.

  • that's actually a great idea ! – Fattie Jan 29 '19 at 16:25

Please advise the reviewer that you wouldn't want to change a line taken from a famous poem of Robert Burns. Especially not four days after Burns' night.

And you included mice. How much more inclusive can you be?

But most of all, what if you changed the quote to "the best laid plans of mice and women often go askew", do you think the reviewer would prefer that?

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    As noted, the reviewer suggested person, which is gender neutral. I think my 'problem' here is this seems so insignificant and, at least to me, the historical context is clear and doesn't demand a rewrite for modern conventions. If the whole document used male pronouns (which it doesn't), then I could appreciate the feedback. – Craig Jan 29 '19 at 0:28
  • @Craig. Sure, the suggestion was "person", but the reviewer is just being stupid, so it's absolutely fine to respond in a way that shows them as being stupid. – gnasher729 Jan 29 '19 at 0:30
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    @gnasher729, while that might be satisfying, it won't resolve anything. The reviewer would just suggest "person" again, as they did before. – Chris F Jan 29 '19 at 1:40

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