Have You Been the Butt of a Tech Joke?

Your techie friends think you're stupid if they tell you any of this

Photo of a businessman on a phone in front of a computer
© Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images

Ever heard of a user error? It's the official-ish way of saying that your computer, phone, or other device that seems to having problems isn't the source of the problem... you are.

Let's say you buy some external speakers for your laptop, you connect them, and they don't work. There's a real problem if you've done everything right, but it's user error if you keep plugging them into the microphone jack instead of the headphone jack.

In other words, user error is tech-speak for a mistake, and we all make them. Considering how complex so much of our technology is, it's no surprise a lot of mistakes are made with our computers, smartphones, home networks... you name it.

Unfortunately, your pompous techie friend, IT help desk agent, or tech support rep will, on occasion, use his or her knowledge of your lack-of-knowledge to poke some fun at your user errors.

You may not know the difference in an EEOC, HAL, or ID-10T issue, but the techie you ask for help from does... and knows you don't. One of those is a real problem, and the other two are not-so-nice ways of making fun of you without you knowing!

Here's a comprehensive list of euphemisms for what the pretentious techie you're talking to really wants to say: you're an idiot.

ID-10T: The "IDIOT" Error

That's right - this one goes right to heart of it.

Pronounced as eye-dee-ten-tee, this is an "old favorite" among the tech savvy.

It rolls off the tongue and sounds as legitimate as any other computer jargon you might hear.

"Hey Bob! Yeah, that issue with your mouse sounds like an ID-10T error. Try plugging it in to the right port and see if that helps."

The ID-10T joke has almost reached a point of common usage. Consider yourself lucky if you haven't had it directed at you yet.

PEBKAC: Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair

Your techie friend is so funny, isn't she? How creative to physically map out the source of the problem for you!

This one is usually spoken as a word, pronounced as peb-kak. More often than not, I see PEBKAC kicked around internally among tech support groups so you may have never heard it yourself.

"I swear... nothing but PEBKAC calls today."

Sometimes you'll see this one as PEBCAK (swapping chair and keyboard). Other times you'll see computer or monitor swapped for keyboard, making for all sorts of variations on this one, like PEBCAC or PEBMAC.

PICNIC is a related one I see more often these days, probably because it's so easy to remember. This stands for Problem In Chair Not In Computer.

EEOC: Equipment Exceeds Operator Capabilities

This one sounds so technical that it almost doesn't feel mean.

"Look, we've tried everything. I guess it's just an EEOC. Not much I can do for you there."

The implication here is pretty clear: you're not smart enough to use whatever you're having trouble with.

RTFM: Read The Freaking Manual

This one seems to me like more an anger-filled reaction than a statement about your intelligence, but I have seen this used in support forums more than once.

"Interesting problem... sounds like you need to RTFM!"

This particular technoinsult has a variation on the 'F' part that I won't spell out for you.

Code 18: The Problem is 18" Away From the Screen

Another "proximity" joke here, although I personally find 18" a bit close to sit to my screen.

"I don't know what else to tell you. Must be a Code 18, which there is nothing at all I can do about."

The metric version of this joke is Code 40 or Error 40, so don't let your centimeter-using friends slip one by you.

Please know, however, that there actually is a Code 18 error that you could see yourself - it's a Device Manager error code.

 No, it's not Bill Gates giving you a hard time - it means that you need to reinstall the device drivers for whatever hardware you see it on in Device Manager.

Layer 8: That's You

The OSI model is a way of looking at how computer systems communicate. The "deepest" layer is Layer 1, the physical layer, and ends at Layer 7, the application layer - the one you and I interact with.

If you bring the OSI model a bit further out, you get Layer 8 (you), Layer 9 (your organization), and Layer 10 (your government).

"I've looked at your problem from every angle and determined it to be a Layer 8 issue."

This is certainly one of the more geeky ways to insult anyone without an IT degree.

More User Error Jokes

Here's an extensive list of user error jokes, mostly for your reference so you can respond appropriately, but let's be honest... they're sometimes fun to dish out, too.

1K BufferImplies a low capacity for learning (1K is tiny)
C2KChair 2 Keyboard issue
CBECarbon Based Error
Code 18The problem is 18" away from the screen
EBCACError Between Computer And Chair
EBKError Behind Keyboard
EEOCEquipment Exceeds Operator Capabilities
ESOEquipment Smarter than Operator
HKI ErrorHuman Keyboard Interface Error
I/O ErrorIgnorant Operator Error (from legit Input/Output Error)
ID-10T ErrorThe "IDIOT" Error
Layer 8You are Layer 8 in the OSI model
OHEOperator Headspace Error
PEBKACProblem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair
PICNICProblem In Chair Not In Computer
RCSOReboot Computer, Slap Operator
RTFMRead the Freaking Manual
TSTOToo Stupid To Operate
UPIUser Perception Issue

Did I miss any? Let me know and I'd be happy to add it to the list above. Yes, I did skip any that were offensive in other ways, so please don't send me those.

While no one deserves to have any of the above "jokes" hurled at them, there are a number of things you can do to make that interaction with tech support, or even your smarty-pants friend, a bit more successful. See How to Talk to Tech Support for everything you need to know.

You might also like my How Do I Get My Computer Fixed? and Getting Your PC Fixed: A Complete FAQ. Both are full of helpful advice on making the process as easy as possible.