Tech Euphemisms: What Those Error Messages Really Mean

Even when we make the stupidest errors while using our computers, phones, or whatever, the canned message that informs us of our blunder typically adopts a tone that ranges from completely matter-of-fact to sweetly understanding.

But the messages often end up sounding comically understated or euphemistic, glossing over the fact that the problem was the result of a PICNIK ("Problem In Chair, Not In Computer") error (AKA “ID-10T” error).

In other instances, however, the system seems to be trying to cover its own (silicon) rear end, either by downplaying the severity of the reported fault or by subtly shifting the blame to the user.

Either way, our devices don’t always give it to us straight when something goes wrong.

Following is a collection of some of tech’s most obviously euphemistic error and warning messages, followed by what we think our devices would say if they were a little more, uh, human.

IVR (Interactive Voice Response) Systems

Perhaps my favorite example comes from my Sprint cell phone. When I get distracted and fail to respond to a prompt issued by Sprint’s IVR (interactive voice response) system, the recorded female voice offers this timeless bit of advice to me: "Always remember to press the number of the command you wish to select."

I understand her dilemma. She wants to get me going again, but she doesn’t want to yell at me for spacing out, and she has to say something. Here’s what I think she really means: "Hey, dude, are you still there? Did you nod off again? Wake up!"

Euphemism #2

Customer Support IVR: "Please hold for the next available agent."

Translation: Please hold while we connect you to a script reader in India.

GPS Systems

Especially while travelling, I depend on the turn-by-turn directions that my GPS system provides to tell me where to go. The system’s female voice is friendly and matter-of-fact (even as she mispronounces street names). When I fail to obey her directions, she calmly says, “Recalculating route.”

But she wasn’t always so nice. Before her software upgrade awhile back, she was, well, kind of a grouch. Her directions sounded terse under the best of conditions, and when something went wrong--when I strayed from the route she had planned for me--she said “You have gone off course” in a tone so sharp that it sounded scolding.

What I think she really meant: "Hey, you missed the turn!! What are you doing?! Do you know how long it took me to calculate that route?! Pay attention next time!!"

PC Operating Systems

Euphemism #1

Error message: "Please insert a readable CD in the drive."

Translation: You forgot to put the CD in, genius.

Euphemism #2

Error message: "Windows cannot find the file."

Translation: I keep telling you that this file does not exist. Three times I told you. Now you’ve made me catch this stupid exception--and I'm angry.

Euphemism #3

Error message: "Windows has encountered an error and must shut down."

Translation: Now you’ve done it.

Euphemism #4

Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) message: “Check for viruses on your computer. Remove any newly installed hard drives or hard drive controllers. Check your hard drive to make sure it is properly configured and terminated. Run CHKDSK /F to check for hard drive corruption, and then restart your computer.”

Translation: Oh sh*t.

Euphemism #5

Eror message [Windows XP]: "Error copying File or Folder: A system call that should never fail has failed (While copying a file to the desktop)."

Translation: Sometimes the instability of this OS surprises even us.

Euphemism #6

Warning message: “Buffering video stream."

Translation: Upgrade your slow DSL line, buddy.

Euphemism #7

Error message: "Kernel Panic."

Translation: PANIC, NOW.

Euphemism #8

Error message: "Non-System disk or disk error."

Translation: If you don't have a backup, put your head between your legs and kiss your data goodbye.

Euphemism #9

Error message: "Microsoft Word has stopped working."

Translation: You have stopped working.

Euphemism #10

Error message: "The system cannot end this program because it is waiting for a response from you."

Translation: It may look to you as though the program froze all by itself, and then you had to press Control-Alt-Delete to get to the Task Manager in order to shut it down; but as far as we're concerned, the program is just patienty waiting for you click a button in a dialog box so it can go on about its business. Hey, too bad you can't reach (or even find) that dialog box!

Euphemism #11

Warning message: "An unidentified program wants access to your computer."

Translation: Dude, you know that program you spent the last 15 minutes downloading--the one where the "remaining time to download" gauge jumped nonsensically back and forth between "3 minutes," "1 day, 14 hours," "less than a minute," and "3 hours"? And then you specified a hard-drive location and folder to save it to? And then you visited that folder, double-clicked its icon, and wanted to install it so that you could get on with your day instead of sitting in front of a damn computer for another 10 minutes? Remember? Well, I just want to make sure you really want to install it. It didn't come from me, which is why you needed to download it. And you may have just been kidding around when you performed all those previous actions, and it's hard for us computers to detect humor of any kind. So seriously, no joking now, do you want to Cancel or Allow the installation? This is totally your last chance to cancel, except for all the opportunities you'll get once our super-helpful Install Wizard takes over the process. Still want to Allow it? That's cool. Just wanted to make sure. I love you, bro. I've totally got your back, security-wise.

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