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Unlock the hidden meanings in help desk language

Before joining the help desk elite, unseasoned techs must master the hidden meaning of phrases used during a support call. This article offers a lighthearted yet revealing look at help desk phraseology.


There are a number of key phrases that are used on a regular basis at help desks around the world.

They sound harmless enough but often have hidden meanings, understood only by those who have been initiated into the black art of the help desk. In this listing of common phrases and their true meanings, I’m sure you’ll see some that you’ve heard before and some that you might have even used yourself.

What we say vs. what we mean
"To tell you the truth/To be honest…"
Meaning: “I am about to heavily bend the truth.”

"It would probably be best to re-install the software."
Meaning: “I don’t know how to fix this, nor does anyone else here. By the time we’ve worked out the solution, you could have re-installed the package a dozen times.”

"Hmmm! That’s a good one!"
Meaning:“What the heck are you talking about?”

"There must be some incompatibility problem."
Meaning: “I haven’t got a clue.”

"I’ll check with my team leader."
Meaning: “He hasn’t got a clue either.”

"We have passed the problem on to the developers."
Meaning: “Even they don’t have a clue.”

"Let me just check with a colleague."
Meaning: “I’ll press the mute button now because I can’t stop laughing.”

"What operating system are you running?"
Meaning: “Do you know what an operating system is?”

"Are you getting a login error?"
Meaning: “You’ve forgotten your password, haven’t you?”

"Let’s check your system settings."
Meaning: “I wasn’t listening the first time.”

"I apologize unreservedly for my mistake."
Meaning: “Damn! I just broke the first help desk law!”

"Let’s run through that procedure one more time and check the exact error message."
Meaning: “I need to play for time while I reboot my machine, swallow this huge lump of sandwich I just bit off, find the relevant help file, or finish making the tea.”



What the callers say vs. what they mean
"I haven’t touched anything."
Meaning: “I have just fiddled with some registry settings/DLLs/system settings and now it won’t work at all.”

"I really truly haven’t touched anything."
Meaning: “I’ve really done it this time.”

"What would happen if…?"
Meaning: “I’ve just done this and feel a bit silly. How would I fix it without anyone knowing?”

"I’m a personal friend of the chairman."
Meaning: “He once swore at me for using his parking space.”

"I’m running Windows 97."
Meaning: “I don’t know the difference between an operating system and an office package.”

"Of course everything is plugged in! Do you think I’m stupid?"
Meaning: “Something is not plugged in.”

"I really can’t waste any more time on this, goodbye!"
Meaning: “I just spotted what I did wrong, and I’m very embarrassed.”

"My screen is blurred and I get headaches.”
Meaning: “The guy across the corridor just got a new screen and I want one too.”

"Is there a problem with the network?"
Meaning: “I forgot my password.”

"It won’t let me in and I know I entered the password correctly.”
Meaning: “I have caps lock on.”

“I checked my caps lock and I still can’t log in."
Meaning: “I forgot my password, and the last time this happened I had my caps lock on.”

"Has this problem been reported by anyone else?"
Meaning: “Am I the only clueless pony on the block?”

Check out Jeff’s other articles
If you enjoyed Jeff’s lighthearted look at the language of the help desk, you might also enjoy his article "Beware the 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers." As always, we’re interested in what you have to say about this article and TechRepublic in general. Feel free to post a comment or write to Jeff Dray and share your opinions.


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