What Is PEBKAC?

Michael Pollick

If you've ever worked in IT, you've probably heard the acronym PEBKAC, which stands for "Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair." It's a humorous term for user error, especially simple issues that technicians are asked to fix.

PEBKAC ("Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair") is an acronym used by IT support employees to refer to user error.
PEBKAC ("Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair") is an acronym used by IT support employees to refer to user error.

A typical PEBKAC situation generally involves basic user error, such as clicking on the wrong icon when saving a file or accidentally changing the formatting of a document. Such issues are often fixed with a simple keystroke or reboot, although the deeper issue of basic computer literacy still remains.

Having a positive working relationship with tech support can be crucial for resolving computer issues.
Having a positive working relationship with tech support can be crucial for resolving computer issues.

PEBKAC : "Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair"

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It's thought that the acronym PEBKAC, or a popular variant: PEBCAK, first appeared in the 1970s, as IBM computer technicians began to commiserate with each other over time-consuming fixes they were asked to perform.

As a form of shorthand, a repair report might contain the informal notation "PEBKAC" or "PEBCAK" to let other programmers know that the problem wasn't actually technical, but rather the computer user. The use of the PEBKAC acronym is generally a safer way for IT employees to vent frustration without actually offending the technological novice, whether it's a client or co-worker.

Not all PEBKAC situations are insignificant, though, and not all can be resolved simply by "turning it off and on again."As many fledgling computer users have discovered, it is possible for one person to create a veritable Gordian knot of computer issues through a series of unfortunate clicks. It's at moments like that when a good working relationship with the teach suppor team can be crucial.

Other Humorous Terms for User Error

  • Some may privately refer to a user error problem as an ID-Ten-T situation, which appears as ID10T when written out, implying that the user is an idiot.

  • PICNIC ("Problem in chair, not in computer") and IBM ("idiot behind machine") are similar derogatory terms for user error.

  • There are also stories of frustrated computer technicians charging a "PITA fee" to especially difficult clients. While this acronym may sound legitimate or technical, much like PEBKAC, PITA is actually shorthand for "Pain in the A**."

  • "Biological interface error" and "carbon-based error" are other ways for IT employees to signal that the real problem is with the human (a carbon-based life form) rather than the (silicon-based) computer.
PEBKAC and other terms such as ID10T and "biological interface error" allow IT support employees to vent their frustration over time-consuming requests for help.
PEBKAC and other terms such as ID10T and "biological interface error" allow IT support employees to vent their frustration over time-consuming requests for help.

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Discussion Comments

Ruggercat68
@Reminiscence, I'm glad you have a good IT manager at your place of employment. When I was working for a local insurance company, our IT manager was just like the Jimmy Fallon character, but worse. He wouldn't just ask someone to move, he would bark "Get up!" and then let out a heavy sigh as he sat down. We always dreaded the idea of reporting a problem to this guy, because we knew he was convinced we did something stupid to cause the easily correctable problem. I remember coming up with a few "work arounds" so I could keep processing claims without having to call him for repairs.

The company finally hired an assistant IT manager and she was much easier to work with. She once laughed about the term PEBKAC when I showed her this article.

Reminiscence

I know there are times when our company's IT manager is quietly thinking "PEBKAC" while solving some of my computer issues. I'm not completely illiterate when it comes to computer technology, but there are times when the usual solutions just don't work. Our IT manager is very patient with us most of the time, but he will definitely let someone know when the problem was caused by carelessness on the part of the user.

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