A message displayed to the user when a program encounters a problem. Can either be vague, useful, entertaining, or any combination thereof.

I've always seen this a lot, and it's becoming even more common. The standard problem report in all fields of computing is now "the computer won't frobnitz; it gives an error message".

Isn't that fascinating? It gives an error message! "What error message does it give?"
"I don't know."

You don't know! Presumably when you go to the doctor's you're also incapable of giving any description more coherent than "Something's wrong".
"If you're incapable of giving any explanation of what goes wrong when you try it, how do you expect me to help?"
"I thought maybe you'd already seen it, and know what to do."
"No, sorry, when it does that I always have to read the error message before I have any idea what's wrong."

I'm serious. People are incapable of reading error messages. They won't accept a computer's word that there's a difference between a file not being found and it being found but corrupted. Often I have to "come and see" for myself; when I do that, reading the error message to the questioner will often bring them to enlightenment: "Oh! The file has the wrong format! Thank you!"

And it's everywhere today. At work, programmers will ask my advice on a compiler problem, without being able to say what the error message is. You'd think that when sending an email people would have the sense to cut and paste the error message, but no, that's "too technical" for anybody to be able to grasp. (Yes, I know that most user friendly programs make sure to pop up up error messages in a modal dialog box that allows no cutting and pasting, but it also happens to me with compiler error message).

What's wrong with people???

If you don't see it, it isn't there.

Maybe they hope that, if they don't acknowledge the presence of the specific error message, it makes the problem simpler, somehow...

Or else they're just too damn lazy to do anything about it. I lay even odds on the two alternatives.

Incidentally, if you decided to be evil and require the error message before you fix anything, you might see a change in this trend. I know that, for instance, the ALSA support list does this.

I'd guess that, under Windoze, about 60% of the time it's completely useless ('This application is going to be terminated'), 30% of the time it doesn't explain correctly (or, refers to the wrong thing: compilers are terrible for this, but performing DWIM is quite tricky), and 10% of the time it makes sense if you read it. And know what you're doing.

Frequently, tech support workers and sysadmins find themselves needing to ask a user what sort of error message the user has received from a computer. Sometimes, users even report errors accurately and completely. Before taking my present job as a network security and Unix support technician for a heavily multiplatform institution, I had no idea that operating systems themselves could be characterized by the likelihood that their users tell tech support the truth about error messages or other things on their screens:

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