back to article WTF? Potty-mouthed intern's obscene error message mostly amused manager

As the year gets into gear, so does Who, Me?, The Register's weekly reader-contributed column in which we share your stories of getting away with tech shortcuts that should really have led to long career detours. This week, meet a reader we'll Regomize* as "Chuck" who sent a story from the late 1990s, when he worked for an …

  1. Anonymous Anti-ANC South African Coward Bronze badge

    Never, ever do "custom" messages. Rather, use clean messages.

    Otherwise the Karens will call the manager, and get you fired, especially when a sense of humour is sorely lacking.

    1. Andre Carneiro

      That is now.

      The 90s were altogether a far less hysterical time…

      1. GlenP Silver badge

        It would still have potentially led to being fired, even in the 90s. "Karens" may not have been a thing then but equally there were a lot of older people in business who would have found foul language unacceptable.

        I had to warn one of my staff for distributing a humorous, but foul, email to customers. Yes it was funny but I knew of several people who would definitely not appreciated it - had they seen the message it would have seriously impacted on business relations. He only got an informal, "Never do that again!"

        1. Jedit Silver badge

          ""Karens" may not have been a thing then"

          Karens have always been a thing. We just didn't call them Karens then.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: ""Karens" may not have been a thing then"

            I've always thought "Hagathas" was more appropriate

          2. Roopee Bronze badge

            Re: ""Karens" may not have been a thing then"

            Agreed, and we shouldn't now - Karens still has sexist overtones, quite apart from the fact that some non-entitled, non-racist people are actually called Karen.

      2. Bebu Silver badge

        That is now.

        《The 90s were altogether a far less hysterical time…》

        And all the Karens were in Burma?

      3. stungebag

        Yes, they were easier times. I used to work for a major US-based company that sold an early 4GL that required you to describe screen layouts in text. A colleague wrote a screen painter that would generate the right text for you. It worked so well that the UK saleforce routinely used it when demonstrating the system. On startup it displayed a nice ASCII-art logo that was an acronym: Direct Input of L*** Definitions Online, or DILDO.

        No prospective customer ever found it anything other than funny.

        1. Korev Silver badge

          On startup it displayed a nice ASCII-art logo that was an acronym: Direct Input of L*** Definitions Online, or DILDO.

          I guess the DILDO customers weren't stuck up...

          1. richdin

            ThinkPad users made the best lovers

            My go-to nickname for the ThinkPad tracking device - was always followed by the above explanation...!

        2. wallaby

          In the 80s I worked for BAe at its Woodford plant - there we were converting Nimrods into the ill fated AEW (airborne early warning)

          The main external features of this were a large bulbous nose and and elongated rear fuselage with a large radome at the rear - known colloquially as the dildo

          Friday afternoons we used to have school trips taken round the factory by apprentices, one day I was working away when a group of 11 / 12 year olds were walking past accompanied by an apprentice called Martin. to my horror (and that of the teachers present) he pointed to the rear end and said this is where we mate the dildo with the hole at the back.

          I asked him later if he knew what a dildo was - never seen someone go quite so red.

          1. steviebuk Silver badge

            Martin Gilroy?

    2. MonkeyJuice

      Depends on the target audience.

      Back in the 90s we put a message on an industrial press that would trigger if you set its stroke rate too high.

      It would display "This fucker weighs 30 tonnes. You move it."

      1. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: Depends on the target audience.

        As I've recounted here before, I was once tracking a mainframe bug report (more than 20 years ago, yes) and got a message on my terminal stating that "if you reached this point you're fucked".

        Although the original coder was no longer working with us, I eventually confirmed his prescient statement...

        1. Sorry that forum user name is already taken.

          Re: Depends on the target audience.

          Similar, though mine was, "Paul says this won't happen" printed to the console just before a core dump. No, I'm not Paul, but I did know him...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        stroke rates

        It's not the only thing that can "trigger if you set its stroke rate too high".

        1. Montreal Sean

          Re: stroke rates

          Careful now, that kind of activity can lead to nasty RSI!

          1. Hazmoid

            Re: stroke rates

            or a visit from HR!

            1. Zoopy

              Re: stroke rates

              I... don't think HR provides the services you think they do.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: stroke rates

                At work someone started a project with the code name "Full Monty",,,

                Waiting for someone to complain,,,

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'll take any error messages. It's becoming increasingly rare for devs to include proper error handling in solutions these days and as the guy that inherits large, dodgy projects I end up scratching my head a lot of the time.

      Debug output is not the same as proper error handling.

      1. JulieM Silver badge

        It's becoming increasingly rare for devs to include proper error handling in solutions these days
        That works both ways! If users would rather contact helplines with inane questions than read documentation, why should developers bother writing it?

    4. steviebuk Silver badge

      Write it in code. Like we do.


      Look at a phones alphabet keypad

  2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    People not realising "anonymize" is actually a legit UK spelling I can imagine but ...

    *That’s our made-up portmanteau of “The Register” and “anonymize”, not a typo as some readers have recently assumed.

    Seriously? This place has really gone downhill . Must be some stiff upper manglement guy attracted by the Reg's more high brow serious journalism of recent times.

    1. phy445

      Open source?

      Slightly, off topic, but will El Reg ever open source the Regomiser? Sure it wouldn't too hard to code a system up, but this one has had a good deal on in the field testing - little need to worry about potty-mouthed errors etc.

      1. Montreal Sean

        Re: Open source?

        The Regomiser is actually a lowly intern who is only let out of the comms closet to create a name and then is shoved back into the closet.

    2. GNoMe

      Actually "anonymize" is the American spelling, the correct UK spelling is "anonymise"

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Case in point.

        Its usually used with the S yes , but the Z is allowed. You cant lose marks for it. Cambridge

        Now let me blow your mind , the word "speach" doesent exist, its "speech". That's right , the ugly bastardised simpleton American spelling is the correct and only one. Look it up.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          "the word "speach" doesent exist"

          Who thought it did?

          1. Victor Ludorum

            I presume

            It's to do with speak and speaking, which should in theory etymologise speach.

            1. Scott 26

              Re: I presume

              "I could eat a speach for hours"

            2. heyrick Silver badge

              Re: I presume

              Given that how you pronounce things is pronunciation... wait... hang on, where's the second 'o'?

              I think the English language is trolling us when it comes to anything to do with vocal noises. Clearly one should only read English, not attempt to say it.

          2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Not a surprise to find out that the guy who comments about his belief in every conspiracy theory under the (local?) sun is none too bright.

          3. NXM Silver badge

            Wasn't there a film about it but someone missed the space out? The Kings Peach where he just loves stone fruit?

          4. Tim99 Silver badge

            Writing "loose" instead of "lose" is common now - It was, I believe, started by young people in the USA.

            Apparently being old often means that you are more tolerant, I'm still waiting for that to happen.

        2. Mark #255


          Depends on the language, obviously: "speach" is Gàidhlig for "wasp"

          1. David 132 Silver badge

            Re: "speach"

            Such a beautiful, concise language. The English word for wasp is “nasty evil black and yellow fucker”.

            1. heyrick Silver badge

              Re: "speach"

              Allow me to introduce you to what the French call the "frelon". While it's technically a hornet, it's bigger than anything I remember from the UK. Evil fuckers too, they'll sting you for so much as looking in their direction, then they'll whizz around the building and get you again just to be sure. This pattern might keep going but any self respecting squishy meatsack wouldn't wait for a third go.

              They're noisy in flight, and tend to fly point to point, so my crowning moment of awesome was smacking one out of the air (and out of existence) with a cricket bat.

              Wasps? Meh. Wasps are just angry bees. It's the hornets that like to torture for the evulz.

              1. Great Southern Land

                Re: "speach"

                >Wasps? Meh. Wasps are just angry bees.

                With magazine weapons rather than the single shot weapon that bees have.

              2. mdubash

                Re: "speach"

                Not so true. As a beekeeper, I've dealt with hornets and wasps, and the latter are far more likely to have a go just because.

                Individually, hornets are placid creatures. Just don't go near their nests though, or they mount a full-on Operation Overlord.

            2. collinsl Bronze badge

              Re: "speach"

              It used to be called "waps" but got corrupted into "wasp" at some point in the late middle ages/reneissance IIRC.

              1. David 132 Silver badge

                Re: "speach"

                They were called "Jaspers" when I were a lad... shortly after the late middle ages, admittedly.

                1. phuzz Silver badge

                  Re: "speach"


                  1. David 132 Silver badge

                    Re: "speach"

                    Nah, but I had several friends who were, and you know how at that age kids - well, speaking for myself - are a sponge for new words and idioms.

                    For example, I remember my brother and I going through a phase - this would be early 80s - of describing anything that was really easy as "dead pimps" (cf "dead simple" etc), a coinage that alarmed and unnerved our parents... but then, isn't that the whole point of being a kid? :)

            3. Grinning Bandicoot

              Re: WASP

              Not according to Erich Frank Russel. He might have derived the idea of Wasp from the group that he was rumored to worked with in WW2

        3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

          I'm personally opposed to the dissent shown by your pedantry which includes the used of "doesent"

          1. Spanners Silver badge

            Or "disnae" as they say where I come from.

            (Not sure where to put the apostrophe in it though.)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Careful, Walt's descendants might sue you for use of that similar sounding term.

            2. John 110

              Strictly speakin there isnae an apostaphe in "disnae" (or "speakin" or isnae) 'cause they're actual words, not abbreviations or dialect. So dinnae tre tae pit wan in!

            3. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

              Ah yes, the dialect that makes the word "pal" sound like the most threatening word in the English language.

          2. David 132 Silver badge

            Allow me to introduce you, if you haven't already heard of it, to Muphry's [sic] Law!

        4. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

          I seem to have missed the bit where anyone claimed "speach" was an English word. Now, let's talk about "doesent", and your lack of an apostrophe in the contractions of "cannot" and "it is".

          1. Grinning Bandicoot

            RE: it is

            We could start using again 'tis' and clean up a 'whole of lotta grammar carping'. I also think that "thorn" should be returned to the alphabet so those idiot 'ye olde' signs could be cleaned up.

        5. Press any key

          I suggest you shouldn't give advice on the use of the word its as the contraction of 'it is'

          1. Yes Me Silver badge

            Pednantic grammar nazi alert

            Isn't "its" a contraction of "it's" (possessive apostrophe) to distinguish it from "it's" (contraction of "it is")? Yes, I think it is.

        6. david 12 Silver badge

          When I was at school in Aus, s and z were dictionary spellings for 'ize' words, with 'ize' the preferred spelling, because we used Oxford dictionaries. But when the Australian Macquarie Dictionary was released, it simplified spelling choice to "ise" only, and in the on-line newsgroups in the 90's, anyone using the "ize" spelling in an AUS newsgroup was called out for for using "American" spelling. (Haters got to hate).

        7. anothercynic Silver badge

          Ohhhh, the dictionary from the Other Place says it's ok... ;-)

        8. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

          and what about "doesent"???

      2. JulieM Silver badge


        The Oxford English Dictionary says both -ise and -ize are acceptable in British English (and words spelt with -ize are accepted on Countdown), but -yze is strictly an Americanism.

        1. James Wilson

          Re: Dictionaries

          I suggest to my former boss, for whom English was her second language (or third, or forth), when she wanted to say she would examine something methodically, she should really use 'analyse' rather than 'analise'.

          You have to love English. Nothing like a bit of consistency, eh?

          1. David 132 Silver badge

            Re: Dictionaries

            Heh. I once had to sprint round to my boss’s cube to scream at him to hit “Recall” in Outlook. He’d cc’ed me on a mail to a customer, beginning his missive with “Dear Angus…”

            Except that he’d left out the G. And Recall failed.

            The customer, fortunately, was amused.

            1. PB90210

              Re: Dictionaries

              Had a colleague ask for Mr Looney... the guy at the other end sighed and explained it was actually Loonan

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Dictionaries

                A quick thinker might just emphasise their local accent (or put one on) and "say "that's what I said!" :-)

      3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        We Scots use -ize. The Americans got it from us, like their habit of calling the principal thoroughfare of a town "Main Street" (Scottish) rather than "High Street" (English).

        1. Dave559 Silver badge


          "We Scots use -ize"

          That's (genuine) news to me, writing as a Scot. I'll admit that it has an air of plausible truthiness to it that it might perhaps have been the case at some point in the past before British English became more standardised [sic] (but back then spelling tended to be more variable, erratic, and less fixed in general), but I think I'll play the "citation needed" card nevertheless, if you would perhaps be so kind? I was certainly taught at school that "-ise" was the normal/preferred spelling.

          (I had always thought that the reason for American English preferring -ize was because of that Noah chap (the one with the dictionary, not the one with the big boat) deciding that the "z" spelling much better harked back to the original Greek spelling/pronunciation of such words, rather than the "s" spelling acquired via French and Latin?)

          1. logicalextreme

            Re: -ize

            On your latter point, I believe so aye. And if I'm not mistaken that means the 'murricans actually have the unenviable task of needing to remember which words are spelt -ize and which are spelt -ise. Which presumably isn't too bad if you're an etymology buff, but I suspect that doesn't apply to the average Joe.

          2. Yes Me Silver badge

            Re: -ize

            It's worse than you think. The Oxford English Dictionary specifically prefers -ize (modulo some rules about the Latin origin of the word in question). Only, most British writers greatly prefer -ise.

            I have a theory about that. It's crosswords that make -ise better. When that "s" is part of a crossing word, it is vastly easier to set the crossword than if it was a "z", because there are far more s's than z's in English. Since all UK newspapers print proper cryptic crosswords, they tend to prefer "ise" generally.

            Yes, it's a crazy theory, but I like it.

          3. Roopee Bronze badge

            Re: -ize

            > before British English became more standardised

            All living languages are continually changing and evolving, both in speech and writing (assisted by internationalisation, impeded by grammar nazis of course). Dictionaries merely reflect and attempt to codify the current state, albeit somewhat slowly and reluctantly. So, in a sense, you're all correct...

            Icon... I was taught to use -ise, and 'forbidden' from using -ize, too :)

        2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          Fortriu, Alba or Dalriada Scots? Dare to not know!

      4. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

        'Actually "anonymize" is the American spelling, the correct UK spelling is "anonymise"'

        Nope. It's optional. And actually, we're the ones who moved away from the original "-ize" spellings towards the French-influenced "-ise" spellings. The z actually has a longer history.

        1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

          (Someone clearly isn't a fan of reality.)

    3. bemusedHorseman

      I was gonna say, every time they spell "Regomize*" with an asterisk, I'm like "oh no, who's our lucky ten thousand today"...

  3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Did the error message contain the word "Belgium"?

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    I'll get my coat

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Did the error message contain the word "Belgium"?

      no but it might have mentioned 'Semprini'

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: Did the error message contain the word "Belgium"?

        Oh, I say.


  4. SVD_NL Bronze badge

    Errors that *should* never occur

    End users are marvellous beings, they can trigger errors you would've never thought of (this veep seems to possess this skill as well).

    My go-to is a boring "unexpected error, contact an administrator" on user-facing systems, but sometimes on projects when i'm sure it'll never be used in production (famous last words) i like to do a sarcastic congratulations message. "Congratulations, you managed to break the program. Contact an admin to claim your prize".

    1. Bebu Silver badge

      Re: Errors that *should* never occur

      《My go-to is a boring "unexpected error, contact an administrator" on user-facing systems》

      Having been one of those "administrators" I would implore any code monkey to prepend some clue as to where in his or her code the error occurred.

      If its open source its still a lottery trying to determine what caused the error and with closed source the vendor (if you can get past the local "distributor") will say something like "without more information there is not much we can do." So the "If you are here, you are fucked" is probably quite accurate. I might use "Lasciate ogne speranza" just to infuriate the antielitist wokery.

      Gcc, and most C compilers I imagine, provide macros for the current file, line number and function name so a fairly useful error message is possible.

      Otherwise the poor sysadmin has to script the application to run under a debugger and try for a stack trace and exit error code - just knowing the cause was a SIGSEGV cf SIGILL is a win. SIGXCPU once pointed to some coding idiocy.

      "Developers" don't really endear themselves to sysadmins. I would have thought the BOFH's defenestration victims should be pretty safe by now as the pile of dead developers would have reached the sixth floor.

      How is it that users never believe that the intended "administrator" is the one in the big office with the nice young secretary in the outer office?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Errors that *should* never occur

        "Gcc, and most C compilers I imagine, provide macros for the current file, line number and function name so a fairly useful error message is possible."

        That's all information the average user will overlook. A different but memorable message in each place might be better. "Sky-hook failure" will be more likely to be reported and be distinct from "Beware open manhole cover".

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Errors that *should* never occur

          Personally, seeing an error message that says "something went wrong" just annoys me. You might as well just close the application without bothering to display it. If a developer wants to output a message then personally i'd say it ought to look like this:-

          An error has occurred. If this is the first time your seeing this, please restart the program.

          If the problem reoccurs, to be able to fix it we need to reproduce the problem, so please report exactly what you were doing to your IT Department or the developers when the problem occurred, along with the following error code. <one unique code for every error output>

          You'll then stand at least a fighting chance of getting useful information about the problem back from the end user and their support. "Something went wrong" or "if your reading this, your fucked" as an error message is simply an incitement to violence from both the user and their supporting IT department.

          1. SVD_NL Bronze badge

            Re: Errors that *should* never occur

            Definitely infuriating.

            I did mean this as a "catch-all" error message, generally not linked to user input or just something you didn't predict as a developer.

            i already mentioned this in a different reply, but i actually assumed there would either be a full error or error description with log entry reference included as well. I generally use and/or support the software i write myself, so i didn't even think of not including actual error details!

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Errors that *should* never occur

            Indeed. "Something went wrong" to me translates to "I just soiled my diaper and it's up to you to clean it up". But at least with a diaper I know where the problem is!

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Errors that *should* never occur

              "But at least with a diaper I know where the problem is!"

              In the brickwork. e.g.

            2. Roopee Bronze badge

              Re: Errors that *should* never occur

              Probably the wrong forum - maybe try FetLife or

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Errors that *should* never occur

            >so please report exactly what you were doing to your IT Department or the developers ...

            But, but, but....... I wasn't doing anything to the IT dept or developers when the error occurred.

        2. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

          Re: Errors that *should* never occur

          This is why standard practice is also to log it to a file, wherever possible. Of course, that can inadvertently lead to running out of disk space if you program logs it to a file and then continues, whilst stuck in an infinite loop. Cleverer developers will trap for this.

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Errors that *should* never occur


          I've asked users to quote the exact error message to me and they've been unable to do so - even when I can clearly read it over their shoulder on the screen - assuming they didn't immediately close it and then tell me there's no error message and it just did nothing at all

          These are senior management with multiple PhDs too

          Having got them to actually read the words out loud and asked them what they think it might mean (for the actually useful error messages - like email addresses must be addressed to and not left blank) - they'll throw their hands up in horror at being asked to THINK

          There's old joke about "having a little dinosaur pop up waving a rainbow flag" being about the only way to get them to succinctly tell you what is happening - and it's scarily accurate

          I was once disciplined for writing an email that stated that one particular user should be put in a job where she should be allowed to control nothing more complicated than an etch-a-sketch - someone forwarded her a copy of it. HR were trying very hard to conceal their laughter (She'd just cost us a week of downtime in her office, having bypassed all the antivirus software to open a spam email attachment on the basis of "it must be important" - for the THIRD time in a month.) She also complained loudly about my lecturing her as if she was five years old about the amount of time and money my staff had wasted cleaning up all the infgested machines she'd triggered (it was the third time I spoken to her and I was rather tired of it...). I was having to bite my tongue to stop saying what I really thought of her behaviour or question who she'd "done favours" for to land the job in the first place

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Errors that *should* never occur

            "one particular user should be put in a job where…"

            Oh dear, I think that particular user is working for us now :-( :-(

            (You really do wonder sometimes how some people can keep their jobs (ordinary, late 20th century - 21st century, office jobs, where reasonable office computer skills are really pretty much an unavoidable requirement) when they seemingly have virtually no basic computer skills and not much more common sense either (and no, uhh, male-boss-pleasing 'decorative benefits' either). The fairest thing all round would either be to move them sideways into something harmless, or, if that's simply not possible, for management to basically have to show responsibility, given that the particular employee doesn't have the required skills for the job, and there will have to be a parting of the ways.)

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Errors that *should* never occur

            She also complained loudly about my lecturing her as if she was five years old about the amount of time and money my staff had wasted cleaning

            "It'll have to be charged to your budget" might have been more effective.

            1. Fred Daggy Silver badge

              Re: Errors that *should* never occur

              A little chat to the user's boss, with the lines "this will be charged to your budget" might be more effective.

      2. SVD_NL Bronze badge

        Re: Errors that *should* never occur

        True! Ideally you want an error reference you can check, or the full error they can copy and send you. I did leave that out as it is common knowledge to me, but i guess some developers never need to do support or troubleshooting for the software they write.

        Full public facing errors can be a security issue sometimes (if someone is trying to break your system, a stack trace is extremely helpful!), so a reference ID for a log entry is usually a great option (if you've already got some kind of DB or logfile set up, at least)

        1. EnviableOne

          Re: Errors that *should* never occur

          Screenshots for the win.

          most of my never conditions are of the case event with three outcomes, does not equal 1 2 or 3

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Errors that *should* never occur

      decades ago PDP-11s running RSTS/E (this was at a college) had error messages stored in a disk file. One of the errors was "Program lost, sorry" and might happen if you tried to run a BASIC program without saving it first. This was generally VERY rare. As a prank "someone" (evil grin) changed 'sorry' to something in all caps with a colorful metaphor. WEEKS went by, and then the system operator asked ME to help him fix it. I wonder how he might have known that I could... (and I did, naturally - "Heh. That's pretty funny. Oh, you need help fixing it... You know the error messages are stored in this one file, right?")

    3. G.Y.

      Re: Errors that *should* never occur

      The Unix listings in the Lions book are full of

      error("can't happen")


    4. G.Y.

      contact supplier Re: Errors that *should* never occur

      "cannot happen" errors in the PL/M-51 compiler (at least version 1) would give the user a number like 3-123, and request he 'phone Intel for help

      (single digit was pass #, other part was decimal address in core)

    5. bemusedHorseman

      Re: Errors that *should* never occur

      This is why it's good practice in conditionals checking to always check cases that actually should never be possible, as enforced by the data-type in question itself. What should be a boolean could end up neither true nor false. A switch statement with cases for every possible type of an enum should always have a "default:" case at the end for if the enum isn't ANY of the defined values. Even properly compiled Safe Rust can shit out Undefined Behavior from a cosmic ray (see: the "impossible" Super Mario 64 speedrun where a cosmic ray bitflip teleported Mario to the top of the level).

      "If you build an idiot-proof something, they'll build a better idiot."

    6. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Errors that *should* never occur

      "ERROR: Something bad has happened, see your system manager."

      also (encoded in one of our audio-enabled products, response to an unrecognised command when in test mode)

      [HAL 9000] "I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        An Unexpected error has occurred.

        I've never understood why people use that line in code.

        All errors are unexpected. If it was expected it would not be an error, it would be a known and planned for condition.

        The fact your code has popped up that message tells me that you were expecting something unexpected.

        And if it was really unexpected, at least tell me what it is/was, so I can do something about it.

    7. Not Yb Bronze badge

      Re: Errors that *should* never occur

      Interestingly, every time I've seen "unexpected error, contact an administrator", the response starts with "I'm the administrator, this error message doesn't help".

  5. MiguelC Silver badge

    Re: "If your design had a 1/1,000,000 million chance of failure, it would fail every time he walked by."

    Wouldn't it fail just 9 times out of 10?

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Wouldn't he fail just 9 times out of 10?


      1. EnviableOne

        nah he was an ambulatory fuzzer, before such things existed

  6. IHateWearingATie

    I worked with a guy who used afrikans swearwords in his error messages (not user facing, only in the logs techs look at). T'was an education :)

    1. Korev Silver badge

      My old work had a manager who a probably racist habit of only hiring Indian people and as such there were many more Indians than you'd expect. Consequently there were lots of Hindi swearwords flying about and the other staff members learnt some new words and joined in the fun... This meant that everyone could swear and not say naughty words in English. This was fine until there was a guy of Indian descent visit the office and was most disturbed by the white guys swearing profusely in Hindi...

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        The first step to speaking any foreign language well is to learn how to swear like a sailor in it

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          I thought that was what translation dictionaries were for, looking up rude words?

          1. collinsl Bronze badge

            My hovercraft is full of eels!

            1. David 132 Silver badge

              “Holly, as the Esperantinos say, ’Bonvolu alsendi la pordiston, lausajne estas rano in mea bideo’… and I think we all know what that means!”

              “Yeah. It means, ‘please would you send for the hall porter, there appears to be a frog in my bidet’.”

              “Oh. Well, what’s the one that means ‘your mother spent all her time up against walls with sailors’?”

              “I’m not going to tell you, Arnold.’

              1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                Red Dwarf, - I think I should take a look at it!

              2. D-Coder

                > “Oh. Well, what’s the one that means ‘your mother spent all her time up against walls with sailors’?”

                "Via patrino elspezis ĉiom de ŝia tempo kontraŭ muroj kun maristoj."

                1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                  :D - I am watching that old Red Dwarf show now bit by bit and already came across said episode. He indeed does not tell him that. Thanks for filling my education gap! The show is worth watching, BTW.

        2. bemusedHorseman

          It's even more fun in languages like Russian, where you can turn ANY word obscene by adding certain affixes to it.

          1. herman


            You only really know English, once you can insult someone so bad that his Grandma will disown him, without using any swear words.

            1. Grinning Bandicoot

              Re: Proficiency

              It looks like you're late for your parents wedding.

  7. SuperGeek

    Impossible you say? Maybe unsinkable, huh?

    "And he made sure the test tool included an especially foul message for an error considered impossible to trigger."

    "Impossible" to trigger? Yeah, and the Titanic was "unsinkable!". Fujitsu's Horizon system was "reliable"!

    Hehe. I didn't even finish reading and I knew where it was going!

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Impossible you say? Maybe unsinkable, huh?

      the Titanic was "unsinkable!"

      Actually that was never claimed until after it had sunk, when newspapers ran stories about how, due to it's design, people had thought it couldn't ever sink.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Impossible you say? Maybe unsinkable, huh?


        For the record the claim was that due to the double hulled design "the ship was its own lifeboat"

        The concept of smacking into ice mountains ten times the size, weighing 100++ times more than the ship and with all the "give" of a granite mountain or that cast steel plates of the era became almost as brittle as glass in freezing conditions wasn't something that had crossed designers' knowledge set at the time (all their tests were in english conditions, not arctic ones and they thought of icebergs as little things they'd seen in Northern European waters)

      2. Yes Me Silver badge

        Re: Impossible you say? Maybe unsinkable, huh?


        "due to it's design"


      3. David Hicklin Bronze badge

        Re: Impossible you say? Maybe unsinkable, huh?

        It was described as "virtually unsinkable" by the Shipbuilder magazine but the adverb evaporated over time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Impossible you say? Maybe unsinkable, huh?

          It would have been fine if it had hit a virtual iceberg.

  8. trevorde Silver badge

    Potty mouthed password generator

    One of my old bosses coded up a random password generator for the ISP he was working for at the time. Worked perfectly until it was demoed to some potential Japanese whereupon it proceeded to spew out all manner of Oriental profanities. They politely declined to invest.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Potty mouthed password generator

      At some point in the distant past, I had to transfer program updates to a secure system - and the only method from my remote location was via Base64 encryption and to email several parts. Everything was fine until one day the Base64 encryption put random English swears in the middle of the files...

      1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

        Re: Potty mouthed password generator

        Technically, base-64 is an encoding, not an encryption. It is trivial to un-encode, and is the standard encoding for images and attachments in emails.

        The failure here, by the sounds of it, is some sort of "profanity filter" being applied to emails which doesn't distinguish between plain text parts and base-64 encoded parts, which in turn implies it was written very badly and doesn't actually know anything about the structure of emails, or look at the headers.

        This does put me in mind of the possibly apocryphal tale of the vegetarian boss who was poking around with a disk editor, and was offended by an old machine's disk formatting which filled the newly formatted disk with the 64-bit word, which read, in hexadecimal, DE AD BE EF.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: hexadecimal, DE AD BE EF

          Sounds like one of the Amiga debugging systems. It would fill areas around allocated memory with things like hexadecimal, DE AD BE EF so you would more likely get an error than if you used a null pointer.

          1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

            Re: hexadecimal, DE AD BE EF

            Apparently that pattern was used both for memory fill on Amigas, and for disk filling on some older IBM mainframes. One of the "cute words" you can spell with the first six letters of the alphabet.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: hexadecimal, DE AD BE EF

              I'm under the impression that it was chosen to be a very obvious error - if you ever saw DEADBEEF in a field/pointer/etc, then the program was, er, dead meat.

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: hexadecimal, DE AD BE EF

                That too. Words are good for triggering pattern recognition in hoomons

          2. mirachu

            Re: hexadecimal, DE AD BE EF

            ISTR reading about something Amiga related using C0 ED BA BE as the pattern.

        2. herman

          Re: Potty mouthed password generator

          I preferred DE AD BA BE.

  9. Duncan10101

    Not quite the same thing but ...

    ... I once left a "Custom" icon for my customers. The software I was building took tide information to allow the planning of shipping movements up and down a river (because the river depth varied a lot with tide, duh). So I left them a "Normal" icon, showing a ship in the water, and an "Alternate" that showed it listing dangerously while stuck on a sandbank. The customers seemed to appreciate it, and all chose the silly one for their desktops :)

  10. Electronics'R'Us

    Code comments

    Some years back (about 10) I was doing the base code for a microcontroller with GCC in an eclipse based IDE. Think bare metal and device drivers.

    The default for that was live warnings (equivalent to -wall) which can be useful, but when setting up DMA channels among other things (where pointers abound in the hardware) it can prove to be slightly annoying.

    The DMA descriptors are in RAM, but the addresses of source and destination are in dedicated registers (as they are for many things - check out the memory map for any ARM Cortex device).

    I would get implicit conversion warnings so the code was littered with <someregisteraddress> = (uint32_t*) myvariable where myvariable had been declared as a uint32_t (because what was loaded was a literal value).

    At some point I got frustrated and added a comment along the lines of

    // cast to suppress GCCs verbal diarrhoea

    My then boss was not impressed so I had to remove it.

    In all fairness, this code was going with our hardware to a university for their algorithm development so he had a point.

    1. BenDwire Silver badge

      Re: Code comments

      Even more years back (30?) I wrote code in assembler for the then new PIC chips that I'd started to use in my company's products. As we were in to three-phase electrical measurement, most of out gear had custom transformers (wound on-site) to do all the physical interfacing. Being quite low tech, they has a bit of a phase shift which sometimes caused a bit of an issue when trying to accurately measure power, or provide synchronisation. In this particular case, I was using a differential transceiver chip to create a square wave representation of the zero-crossing points, but just couldn't get my head around the cumulative delays of the hardware. With deadlines looming, I threw in a few NOP statements and added a pithy comment that this was a bodge to be sorted out some time in the future. The code was good enough to sell thousands of products, and of course the code never got revisited.

      Some years later I had moved jobs and was invited to speak on a course that involved my new company's technology. One of the delegates was my replacement at the prior company, and he introduced himself as the guy who found my comment and had to fix it properly due to a change in the chip supplier (and different characteristics). I just smiled.

      1. Orv Silver badge

        Re: Code comments

        I had to write some Delphi code to print some documents from disk files -- literally dump the files straight to the print queue, since they were pre-rendered HPGL plots. Pressed for time and in too much of a hurry to figure out the complexities of the Windows printing system, I threw in a system call to the DOS PRINT command with a comment along the lines of:

        { This is a hack and will need to be replaced by correct code later. }

        I left that job a few years later with the program still working. About a decade after that, the company contracted me to make some changes to my code to fix a couple of issues they'd run of which ended up being due to that line.

        1. herman

          Re: Code comments

          There is nothing wrong with using syscalls. Better than writing new code with new bugs.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Code comments

      In the Data General D100/200 series of terminals, there's one character generator loction [corresponding IIRC to ASCII FF (or 00)] that only displays when you trigger a hardware screen test. That character at first appears to be a random assortment of bits. It is actually my first initial and last name, spelled out in ASCII, one 7 bit character per scan line.

  11. Jedit Silver badge

    Also not quite the same thing, but...

    I once left a note for myself on a procurement case saying that a user couldn't be contacted to arrange delivery as they had the Lurgi. This was how I learned that I wasn't the only person who could read the notes on my procurement cases.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I just usually included a comment at the top in the header about how many beers you'd have to drink to make sense of the code I'd written.

    Always seemed to raise a smile.

    1. Orv Silver badge

      I worked at a place that had a contract programmer that did something similar, except his comments indicated how many beers he'd had before he wrote the code in question.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I once put...

      "Caution: Deep magic here. Only alter this code if you really, seriously understand exactly what it is doing. Here be dragons."

      Knowing future me, I'll eventually come across that warning while trying to debug (with no memory of writing the code), nod sagely, and simply verify I'm getting usable output from it.

    3. J. Cook Silver badge

      You know your coding skills are either genius, or an absolute dumpster fire when you look at a script that's 5/10/ years previous to solve some stupid issue and you comment "Who the f&%k WROTE THIS SHITE!?!?" and then realize that it was, in fact, you, and the code still works exactly like it's supposed to even though it's using a scripting engine that's four or five major versions newer.

  13. Luiz Abdala

    I'm ok with a foul language every now and then on a rare error...

    But ACTUAL "halt and catch fire" interrupts concern me. Like, systems that will actually have a "thermal event" upon error.

    Call me names all day long as you divide by zero, but don't just explode or melt on my face.

    1. Dave559 Silver badge

      Re: I'm ok with a foul language every now and then on a rare error...

      It's OK, they've got a solution for that: the Java EULA tells you (or it did at some point in the past) that the Software is not designed, licensed or intended for use in the design, construction, operation or maintenance of any nuclear facility. Problem solved, job done, for sure!

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

        Re: I'm ok with a foul language every now and then on a rare error...

        F**K !

        <<gets on the phone.......

      2. herman

        Re: I'm ok with a foul language every now and then on a rare error...

        Java isn’t designed for use doing anything useful.

  14. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

    I have to recommend Shakedowners here

    "He also was notorious for finding edge cases. If your design had a 1/1,000,000 million chance of failure, it would fail every time he walked by."

    Justin Woolley, Shakedowners, The Vinyl Frontier, Slack to the Future, and the I-have-not-read-since-not-yet-published fourth book. NO WAIT! It is there! 4EVA !

    Was recommended here by someone else here in 2021 when it was new, a fantastic read. Or the highest German praise: I nearly didn't find anything to complain about.

  15. Avalanche

    About 20 years ago, I worked at the help desk of a software company. One day, a colleague took a call from an employee of a customer. That person thought he was being pranked by his colleagues, because every time he logged into our application, he was greeted with a message that he was a dick, and he wanted to know how he could undo it.

    After some panic on our side, and asking around the company, it turned out it was an Easter egg one of our developers had created after he had become annoyed with (or by) one of our software testers, and entirely forgot to remove it before release. Unfortunately, the employee of our customer had the same login name, triggering the condition for showing the message.

    The customer could laugh about it, and the developer got a stern talk from one of the owners, and I believe he had to audit our software for similar Easter eggs...

  16. Grogan Silver badge

    When I put condition checks in my (own) scripts for safety, I echo foul mouthed admonishments for myself before the script aborts. Next time I'm running it, I'll remember. Oh yeah, last time I was in the wrong context and got called an irresponsible cheesedick or whatever I said :-)

  17. nintendoeats

    I worked on a graphics system which needed to assign a unique number to each graphics object.

    If you somehow manage to create (over the lifetime of one instance of the system) enough graphics objects, it will say something to the effect of "You have managed to overflow a signed 64-bit integer. Save a seat for me at Milliways."

    I wonder if I'm going to get a very annoyed text message from my old boss one day...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A sign was put on the test rack after a switch was borrowed to replace a faulty unit...

    "Please do not take items without permission. If you do need to borrow an item PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU DEFAULT IT FIRST"

    Yes, whoever last 'played' on the rack had left a rather fruity logon banner that was noticed when it was used at a Christian society

  19. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Factory Floor

    I was responsible for a shop floor web interface. Error messages which propagated SQL and deep application errors tended to generate cryptic messages that some of our mechanics had trouble identifying as actual errors. Until I incorporated a little animated GIF stick figure of a user, sitting at a desk, repeatedly smacking his head on a PC keyboard.

    Yes, this is an error.

  20. shraap

    But what was the message?! Interested parties demand to know...

  21. Sequin

    During a specification meeting with the client my boss asked what thye system should do if somebody tried to access part of the system they weren't authorised to access. "It should tell them to bugger off!" was the reply.

    During a system demonstration a few weeks later one of the big bosses tried to access a menu item they didn't have permissions for and was greeted with a blank screen, which slowly filled up with ASCII art (this was in MSDOS days) which eventually said "BUGGER OFF!" in large flashing letters while the Monty Python therme tune played through the speaker. Big boss was not amused!

  22. Binraider Silver badge

    Many a VB hack to be found with fruity comments in amongst our older tools; usually along the lines of "the f***ing documentation for this function is incorrect.

    One of our former employees, let's call him Angus by way of anonymisation while revealing origins, went to a consultancy that were often called upon to audit the work that we do. You then get into that rather odd loop of having to clean up his former code full of his language, in order to send it externally to said consultancy.

    It was rare but you could occasionally find errors his work. The most prominent one was a data export routine that would always give it's output in degrees Rankine whether you asked for Fahrenheit or Celsius, while still labelling it as what you requested the output in. We did enjoy sharing that discovery a little too much :-P

  23. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    One day, I got a call from a user. He was rather insulted that one of our websites had called him "Thickyhead" and told him to "Get Back". I asked what site was giving the message , and what he was doing to trigger the message.

    I can't remember what he was doing, but the site was one we'd created to enable users to have their own MySQL databases, without accessing the server directly. For security, this server had IP restrictions.

    I knew the tech who designed the site, and asked him about it. He said that was a joke error message, and should not have appeared. About 7 different things needed to have happened before the site would display that. I never found out what, but the user had somehow managed to trigger all 7.

    Note: The phrase was actually an in-joke within our team. I forget the reason,

    He replaced the error message with one that actually did explain the problem,

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One of my favourite error messages

    Discovered after go-live.

    “This should never be happen”

  25. JulieM Silver badge

    See also ARM

    The "test suite" (such as it was; it was cobbled together more for show than anything else, because Sophie Wilson was legendary for getting it right the first time) for the ARM architecture contained some error messages that had never, ever been seen -- until someone other than Sophie tried to implement the instruction set in silicon. And the humour in those aforementioned error messages only got drier, darker and filthier as the edge cases became more obscure. All fair game in a UK R&D lab, where catching a colleague out with a light-hearted prank is a major motivating factor -- because the wages certainly aren't.

    However, this test suite (which required getting together enough bits to put together a working Acorn Atom to run some parts of it) was sent out unmodified to the early ARM licensees -- exposing the stark cultural difference between British electronic engineers (who have seen -- and probably contributed to -- university rag mags), and American management types (who have invariably had a sense of humour bypass total enough to accuse Germans of levity and frivolousness).

    They should have counted themselves lucky they weren't dealing with British mechanical engineers .....

  26. DCA


    I saw Regomize and "Chuck" and did not think it a typo. Just thought you were advocating regicide.

    I did once get an error message that told me to buy a pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels–bring home for Emma.

    1. JulieM Silver badge

      Re: Regicide?

      That sounds like the plot of a bad film -- secrets are being passed to enemy agents by means of hard-to-trigger error messages deliberately implanted in computer software, an innocent user lands upon one of them by accident and finds themself unwittingly involved in the scheme .....

  27. Herby

    General error messages...

    I have a system (text based) that originated back in the early 80's which had a ROM monitor that emitted "WTF?" if it didn't understand its input. The programmer (I was told) didn't want to change it, so it was documented as "With Trace Flag" as the explanation. Of course, we all know what it REALLY means.

    Keep calm and carry on.

  28. D-Coder

    I once worked on some software that would decipher logs and error codes and do some simple OS tests for the field service people.

    One of the tests did not work at a specific level of the machine's microcode.

    I did NOT put in the message, "Upgrade microcode and press <RETURN>"... but as a joke, my weekly progress report to my manager did say that I'd done that.

    Five minutes later he came almost running into my office...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like