Here's the deal, I work in tech support, I've to fill reports on what is the most common problems and what caused it...
Sometimes, I get requests from users who lack basic computer knowledge, which makes them seek help in order to fix simple problems, which means their ability is the root cause of the problem.

So.. I'm trying to find a way to write "user ineptitude" without sounding so crude, any ideas?

  • 1
    I know you're looking for polite terms, and these are not... but I like them anyway. PEBKAC: Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair - or the old standby "wetware fault". Edit: should have scrolled down; somebody already posted PEBKAC.
    – MT_Head
    Oct 7, 2016 at 6:28
  • If politeness is key, perhaps "lack of user knowledge." (Zero points for brevity--I know.)
    – pyobum
    Oct 7, 2016 at 6:32
  • Welcome to ELU.SE. This site strives to provide well researched, intriguing questions. Suemelol, phrase or single word requests as yours are required to provide an example sentence about the way the word(s) will be used. Take the tour or have a look at the help center to find out more about good questions.
    – Helmar
    Oct 7, 2016 at 10:37
  • +1 for you attitude. Nice reading: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_error
    – Bookeater
    Oct 7, 2016 at 16:09
  • I tend to say "operator malfunction".
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 29, 2018 at 22:05

6 Answers 6


Whether this is a good fit for you will depend on the types of ineptitude, but one way of phrasing it which is respectful and which points to the solution as well as describing the problem is:

user training issue

Assuming that you're reporting to management, this gives them a steer towards avoiding these by providing CPD - software or general IT literacy training, perhaps.

It's also easier for the user to agree with if their opinion is consulted. It's more palatable to admit that you "need further training" than to agree that you're "inept" or that you "make regular basic mistakes".

  • Just thought: CPD might not be a universal term. Continuing Professional Development is what I was referring to.
    – almcnicoll
    Oct 7, 2016 at 7:31
  • 1
    If you want to be even more polite you could use "lack of familiarity with <software title>". This has the dual advantage of suggesting that the user's knowledge is deficient only in the area mentioned (even if it's not) and of suggesting that the problem is caused by the frequent upgrades provided by the vendor.
    – BoldBen
    Oct 8, 2016 at 21:49
  • @BoldBen - I agree that "lack of familiarity with <whatever>" is a good turn of phrase. On the other hand, with reference to your "even if it's not the issue", misrepresenting the problem doesn't really solve anything. Nor does blaming vendor updates unless that's really the issue. I think we have to assume that the ideal outcome is for OP's management to start fixing the problem, which means they need accurate answers - probably why they're asking OP the question in the first place!
    – almcnicoll
    Oct 8, 2016 at 22:17
  • What I meant by 'even if it's not' was not that the knowledge was adequate, rather that the deficiency might not be limited to the area under discussion (as so often it is not). The reason for taking this approach (and possibly for highlighting problems with the frequency of upgrades) would be to avoid alienating the user base. Particularly where the skill deficiencies are demonstrated by senior management who have to support, or even approve spending on, the solution. Unfortunately politics rules in many cases.
    – BoldBen
    Oct 11, 2016 at 8:31
  • @BoldBen fair enough!
    – almcnicoll
    Oct 11, 2016 at 14:59

Perhaps this isn't strictly polite but I wanted to include it nonetheless: PEBCAK (Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard) or words to that effect

(humorous) Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard. Used by technical support helpdesk staff to indicate that the problem with a user’s computer or experience is due to user error.

ID-10T error - an idiot error.
This is perhaps even ruder, bordering on derogatory, nonetheless it is used and it is funny.


  • 1
    There's also PICNIC: Problem In Chair Not In Computer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 8, 2016 at 20:01

In a polite situation, I would go for a input error/problem/issue.

This would connote an issue with what had been typed in or done by the user without specifically blaming it on them.

I have seen user error used frequently, but that does seem like it could be blaming it on the user, something you might not want to do if they see your report.

A user error is an error made by the human user of a complex system, usually a computer system, in interacting with it.


You may call them inexperienced users to be politically correct; so, you can substitute the reason of user ineptitude with inexperienced user or user inexperience.


inexperienced ADJECTIVE

Having little knowledge or experience of a particular thing.

‘an inexperienced driver’

inexperience NOUN

[mass noun] Lack of experience.

‘the accident was due to the inexperience of the driver’


There are at least two types of problem to consider:

  • Lack of prerequisite skills, which applies to people who cannot navigate their way to the program they want to use, do not know which program they need to accomplish their purpose, or do not have the domain knowledge required to use the program effectively.

  • User interface (UX) failure, where the user cannot figure out how to make the program perform its functions. Anyone who has tried to perform Word’s “save as” operation in the Apple Pages program will know what I’m talking about here.

I have seen many computer users run into difficulty because the systems they were using lacked internal coherence, so that the users could not reason their way to correct action. And let’s not forget that some programs are designed deliberately to make it difficult to use programs from competing hardware manufacturers and/or software publishers.


"<name-of-application>-naive" could be appropriate in some situations, although it may be less polite than "user training issue" since it implies that most people who weren't born yesterday probably do understand how to use this particular software.

The somewhat stronger "<name-of-application>-virgin" could even be used, depending on the company. ("company" as in "persons present" not "corporation by whom you are employed".)

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