Nick Ang

Fun but deregatory terms

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In the office today, one of my colleagues was using LinkedIn ads and found a glitch. Somehow, his teammate in the marketing team based in Helsinki was able to see the performance statistics of the ads we were running, but he wasn’t.

There are several plausible explanations for this behaviour:

  • My two colleagues were looking at different pages
  • Their page’s settings were configured differently
  • One of their browser caches was misidentifying an old file and didn’t fetch the latest file
  • The web server used in Helsinki was caching a different set of data compared to the web server used in Singapore
  • … and tens more possibilities

In reality, he just made a silly little mistake of not configuring the correct timeframe for seeing the data. So he saw a full table of zeros, whereas his teammate saw some non-zero figures.

Right after I helped him see that (it’s the first thing I check these days for dashboards dealing with timeframes after doing several customer support sessions at work), he said something that I found really funny: PEBKAC.


He asked with genuine surprise, “you haven’t heard that term?”

Apparently, this was a term that people in tech, especially the more technical people, were expected to know. But I didn’t. “So what’s pep-keg?”, I asked.

PEBKAC is an acronym that stands for: Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair.

Hearing that the first time just blew my mind. And my stomach. I found it hilarious! Also, when you google it you’ll find that it’s classified under the umbrella of ”user error” on Wikipedia. Other acronyms exist, like:

  • PICNIC (Problem In Chair, Not In Computer)
  • IBM error (Idiot Behind Machine error)
  • ID-10T/1D-10T error (idiot error)

Trust the geeks to come up with funny and obscure things like these.

The problem with using terms like this

After laughing for a while in good spirits (my colleague knew I wasn’t laughing at him, just his funny mistake, which is something anyone could have made), I said to him something in a more serious tone.

“Let’s not make that term a thing in our office”, I said.

But why not? After all, it’s just for fun and there’s no malice intended, right?

Perhaps. But while everyone will occasionally make comments in jest, I’ve seen that comments like this can be used in really derogatory ways when the opportunity comes up.

Thinking otherwise is like knowing the word “fuck” and how people normally use them, and then somehow expecting yourself to never use it when a similar situation arises. It’s wishful thinking.

Once in a while, using fun but derogatory terms like this can be really, really entertaining. But as responsible professionals, I think we should strive to use these only in small, private settings and never matter-of-factly around a group of colleagues. That would sow the seeds for trouble down the road.

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