Error message melodrama

Alan Pringle / Opinion

The Shanghai Tech Writer blog has posted a screen capture of a rather ominous error message in FrameMaker:

The licensing subsystem has failed catastrophically. You must reinstall or call customer support.

I have never been the unfortunate recipient of that particular message in the many years I’ve worked with FrameMaker. If I did encounter that message, I would fully expect it to be accompanied by the shrieking strings from the Psycho shower scene. The use of “catastrophically” is a bit over the top. The fact I need to reinstall or contact customer support sets the tone enough, thank you very much–no soundtrack or scary adverb required.

The editor in me wants “catastrophically” removed from that message. If that bit of text came across my desk for review, I would have pushed back hard on the use of that word. It’s bad enough the user has to get a solution to the error, and referring to the problem as “catastrophic” is certainly not doing the user any favors.

About the Author

Alan Pringle

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Content strategy consulting. Publishing (electronic and print). Eating (preferably pastries and chocolate). COO at Scriptorium.