My line of work is abstract - I could name some items, but it would not help.

So, I have two nouns. They have a parent-child relationship. But lately I realize that it is sometimes unhelpful to treat these items as though they are separate. That is, the child's allowable behaviors are tightly controlled by the parent's.

'associated' and 'coupled' are too weak

'parasitic' has a negative connotation

'master/slave' ehhh no.

'major/minor' maybe but doesn't really imply behavior, and this is all about behavior.

And I need a word that describes the child item, and a word for the parent too. I could call the child node 'dependent' but then the parent node would be called ???

  • Everything depends on what metaphor you're using. Since you gave no examples, we can't tell anything about the nature of the relation without some better description than "parent/child". And whatever you finally decide on, bear in mind that you don't get to define what it means; only your readers do. (I'm assuming you're writing rather than talking about this, And if you have nodes and connections, what's wrong with graph theory? – John Lawler Apr 19 at 21:10
  • Maybe you could say that the child's behaviors are inherited from the parent? – Canadian Yankee Apr 20 at 1:04

An example of this relationship occurs in the Observer Design Pattern.


The names for the parent and child here would be subject and observer.

A different example, which puts more emphasis on the parent’s ability to control as opposed to the child’s ability to interpret, can be found in Control Theory.


Here the parent would be the controller. The child could be descibed generically as a dependent.

These are examples from the world of machines. The human world offers many more examples, such as master/servant, parent/child, captain/mate, etc. However, if the intent is to not anthropomorphize the description, electrical and computer engineering offers some possibilities.

In the first example, you have an observing relationship. In the second case, you have a controlling relationship.

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