"Simple Cipher" exercise description


The description of exercise “Simple Cipher” contains a couple of references to “our little sister” [1] and “your kid sister” [2] that are rather inappropriate (reinforcing ill stereotypes about girls and siblings’ relationships), and irrelevant for the understanding of the exercise.

After I posted this to the Elixir track (where I first found the issue), to suggest the quoted text simply be removed, I was told to mention it here instead, since the text is common to all tracks.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this!

[1] “(…), but we are lucky that generally our little sisters are not cryptanalysts.”
[2] “Shift ciphers are no fun though when your kid sister figures it out.”

This might not be the case in Spanish, but in English «your little sister» is just the idiomatic way of referring to the sister of yours that is younger than you. In exactly the same way, «your little brother» refers to the brother of yours that is younger than you. Dutch behaves in a similar way («zusje», «broertje»).

Would you still object to this wording if «sister» were replaced with «brother»?

If this is a language-differences-borne misunderstanding that is to be expected I am tentatively sympathetic towards changing the wording here. That is, not because the expression itself is sexist, but because we can expect its interpretation to occoasionally be so.

Can confirm in German the phrases “kleiner Bruder”, “kleine Schwester”, “Brüderchen” and “Schwesterchen” refer to the younger siblings, while “großer Bruder”/“große Schwester” (big/tall) refer to the older sibling.

Indeed though, “sister” here could be interpreted in a way that casts bad light on women. And even though I am totally against German “gendering” and so called “gender neutral language”, I think that using “younger sibling”, “little sibling” (if this phrase is valid in English) would take any potential gender offence out of the sentence.

At the same time the story would include anyone with a younger sibling, not only those who have a younger sister.

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Thanks for taking the time to answer!

Addressing your direct question, @MatthijsBlom: yes, I would object to replace “sister” with “brother” as a way to have this resolved. It is not about replacing one wording with another in an apparently symmetrical way (which is not symmetrical in our current context, in any case), it is about improving the exercise description by removing unnecessary content which, on top of it, can cast a bad light as @NobbZ puts it.

If keeping the culturally-specific and supposedly-funny reference to “younger siblings as people older siblings enjoy hiding things from” is something you see as indispensable for the exercise, then the suggestion of using “sibling” would be the least of two evils.

My two cents! Thanks again for reading!

Alright then,

They are vulnerable to many forms of cryptanalysis,
- but we are lucky that generally our little sisters are not cryptanalysts.
+ but we are lucky that most people are not cryptanalysts.

seems like an improvement regardless. But

Shift ciphers are no fun though when your kid sister figures it out.

seems unsalvageable to me. I haven’t yet found a proper replacement.

It is not as simple as even this, since “younger/older” implies agism, and intelligence difference that is assumed.

Yet, it is not uncommon for siblings (even the same age, such as twins) to play with tricks and hiding information, just like it is very common for children to have these little language ciphers that fool others so they can communicate together in private, games like Pig Latin, and dub-speak, as examples of verbal cipher games kids play, or even sometimes parents when they try to mask potential sensitive information to each other in the presense of their children.

I don’t have a strong opinion on how offensive this is potentially to any person, because people can be offended, and sometimes can even choose to be offended. Humor can attempts here could be disallowed on the whole, to avoid any potential for offense.

I choose to try very hard not to be offended by things, but I have been on this platform. One time very much insulted and offended, so I know it happens.

Most of the time, I try to read everything (here) as an honest attempt at kind communication. Obviously there are direct conflicts of words used that may mean something differently to the author than it means to me. I try to assume intention is kind.

Shift ciphers are no fun when your playmates figure it out.

@lauramcastro Thanks for raising this btw. I was busy earlier so didn’t have time to reply here but just wanted to get the PR in. And thanks for the discussion everyone else :slightly_smiling_face:

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