What Is PEBKAC? (with pictures)

Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland
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.

PEBKAC stands for “problem exists between keyboard and chair” and is a term for user error. This acronym is frequently used by tech support personnel to identify a problem caused by a person, not by the computer’s hardware or software. The term may be used in a humorous and/or derogatory way. It’s sometimes written as PEBCAK (“problem exists between chair and keyboard”).

Fun Facts

  • The exact origin of PEBKAC is unknown, but it may have been in use as early as the 1970s among IBM technicians.
  • PEBKAC is referenced in a 1998 entry on the site word-detective.com.
  • In 2006, Intel advertised its vPro platform in an online marketing campaign based on PEBKAC.
  • The acronym may be used as a noun: “That last help desk call was a PEBKAC.”
  • It also works as an adjective: “It’s a PEBKAC situation.”

What Constitutes User Error?

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.

Generally, a user error is a problem that’s caused by the person using the computer, not the machine’s hardware or software. The similar phrase human error has a slightly different meaning; it refers to the reliability (or lack thereof) of human performance due to natural limitations.

In many cases, tech support professionals use slang such as PEBKAC to express their frustration with having to spend time fixing easily avoidable problems. The term may also imply condescension when PEBKAC issues occur due to the user’s incompetence, lack of knowledge, or both. Even the use of an “insider” term such as PEBKAC allows tech experts to subtly ridicule computer novices who aren’t familiar with the acronym.

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.

Many user errors are trivial in nature and have simple solutions, such as rebooting the computer. However, not all user errors have quick and easy answers, even those that are caused by relatively few keystrokes or clicks. In any case, PEBKACs are often time-consuming and tedious to fix, which may be why IT professionals have developed so many slang terms for these problems.

Many IT professionals refer to user error with the acronym PEBKAC (“problem exists between keyboard and computer”).
Many IT professionals refer to user error with the acronym PEBKAC (“problem exists between keyboard and computer”).

Not all computer-savvy people agree with the condescending view toward user-caused issues. Some IT experts argue that the real problem is the system itself. According to this view, a system that doesn’t account for the user’s natural human limitations is a poorly engineered system. A better system would be designed to help prevent user error and/or reduce the consequences of simple mistakes.

What Are Synonyms of PEBKAC?

There are several PEBKAC synonyms for user error:

  • PICNIC: “problem in chair, not in computer”
  • EBKAC: “error between keyboard and chair”
  • PEBMAC: “problem exists between monitor and chair”
  • ID10T (also written ID-10-T, ID107, ID-10T, ID-Ten-T, “Ten-T error”): “idiot”
  • Layer 8 issue: “layer 8” is the user layer in the Open Systems Interconnection computer networking model
  • IBM error: “idiot behind machine” error

Frustrated help desk workers may use derogatory slang for errors caused by incompetent users.
Frustrated help desk workers may use derogatory slang for errors caused by incompetent users.

Some IT experts may also refer to user error as carbon-based error or biological interface error. Another version is wetware bug, where “wetware” refers to the biological user as opposed to the computer’s hardware or software. The term luser (“local user”) is another way to refer to an incompentant computer operator, as it’s pronounced “loser.”

Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland is equally passionate about math and grammar, and she has incorporated both into her career. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After her two kids were born, she transitioned to a career as a freelance writer. When she isn't crafting content, she's usually reading, baking, or playing video games.
Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland is equally passionate about math and grammar, and she has incorporated both into her career. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After her two kids were born, she transitioned to a career as a freelance writer. When she isn't crafting content, she's usually reading, baking, or playing video games.

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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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    • 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.
    • 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 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.
    • Many IT professionals refer to user error with the acronym PEBKAC (“problem exists between keyboard and computer”).
      Many IT professionals refer to user error with the acronym PEBKAC (“problem exists between keyboard and computer”).
    • Frustrated help desk workers may use derogatory slang for errors caused by incompetent users.
      Frustrated help desk workers may use derogatory slang for errors caused by incompetent users.
    • Synonyms for PEBKAC include PICNIC (“problem in chair, not in computer”) and IBM (“idiot behind machine”) error.
      Synonyms for PEBKAC include PICNIC (“problem in chair, not in computer”) and IBM (“idiot behind machine”) error.