Why do we use informal words like "Oops!" with users when something goes wrong? What's the reason behind using this type of language during a user's interaction with a website?

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    You don't need to for sure? I think it's just trying to be casual etc. You can also say "Ouch. Something went wrong.", I guess.
    – danqing
    Mar 1, 2014 at 6:13
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    i think you'd get better answers on English SE (no disrespect meant to current answers though lol)
    – Toni Leigh
    Mar 1, 2014 at 10:09
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    Since when is copy not part of UX?
    – Hynes
    Mar 3, 2014 at 3:22
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    Copy(content) is part of UX. The etymology of a particular word, however, is perhaps much better asked over at english.se
    – DA01
    Mar 4, 2014 at 20:49

5 Answers 5


As per this this article it is a derivative of the word "up a daisy". To quote this article

The Oxford English Dictionary mentions that oops is “perhaps a natural exclamation,” but some of its first appearances suggest that, along with whoops, it might derive from the phrase up-a-daisy. Up-a-daisy has been used as an utterance of nonsensical encouragement for children since the 18th century, especially upon lifting them into the air or coaxing them back on their feet after a tumble. Its first known appearance in print comes in the letters of Jonathan Swift, as “up-a-dazy,” in 1711. Over the course of the 19th century, it evolved into upsidaisy. Many of the earliest appearances of oops! and whoops! show up in the context of accidental slips and falls, suggesting that they may be related to up-a-daisy

It could also have been derived from other languages as other languages have similar words. To quote this article

Many other languages have similar expressions. An Italian found in error might say, “ops!” while a Frenchman who’s made a faux pas might say, “oups!” In Spanish, one can say opa, but just as common are huy and ¡ay! A Russian who’s made a goof might exclaim, “ой” (pronounced oj), while a German blunderer might blurt out, “hoppla!”

As per the Oxford dictionary its an natural exclamation- the sort of noises that a human being naturally makes when they might make a mistake. To quote the online Oxford dictionary site


natural exclamation: first recorded in English in the 1930s.

  • I highly doubt that Ooops is representative of a noise that a human being actually makes when they make a mistake. Maybe in 1940, but not now.
    – user39400
    Mar 2, 2014 at 4:13
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    While this explains the origins of the word "Oops" it doesn't answer "why we using the word OOPS if something went to wrong in the sentence or communication with others?"
    – Hynes
    Mar 3, 2014 at 17:15
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    I have to agree with @hynes this is a GREAT answer for english.SE but really doesn't address the UX aspect why it's good (or bad) to use a 'casual voice' when messaging the user.
    – DA01
    Mar 4, 2014 at 19:59

As noted on the Android Design Principles Writing Style page:


  • Use contractions.
  • Talk directly to the reader. Use “you” to refer to the reader.
  • Keep your tone casual and conversational, but avoid slang.

By saying 'Oops' - in English, a commonly accepted way of acknowledging that an unexpected event has happened, in a non-frightening way - we are acknowledging a problem, but not scaring the end-user.

Compare these two error messages:

Oops! Some information wasn't complete.

Error: Please enter valid information in all required fields

Which one comes off as more friendly? Which one is less scary? Which one is more familiar? In this case, message #1. The second message is very technical (terms like 'Error', 'valid', and 'required') and very impersonal.

Additionally, it has been observed that users like language that mirrors what is used in more real-world situations. The second example is less-than-ideal because of how stilted and unnatural it is for day-to-day conversation (I'm a programmer, and even I never speak like that to other people!)

I highly recommend starting with the Android Writing Style principles, and then going and performing research against the Windows and iOS design principle documents. Surely you can gain better insight about your writing style and how it interacts with the end user.

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    voiceandtone.com is a good resource for considering what coloration your application's copy should have.
    – Nic
    Mar 4, 2014 at 17:06
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    Also, "Oops" is a rare example of something that acknowledges a mistake without assigning any blame. As well as being impersonal, 'Error', 'invalid' etc often sound like they are criticising the user - and terms like "Sorry!" go too far the other way, there may be nothing to apologise for. "Oops" is a rare word that is friendly and appropriate regardless of whether the user, system, or random chance caused the error. Mar 7, 2014 at 13:59
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    "Oops" is too mild an apology. A cute apology when the computer is to blame is annoying.
    – georgeawg
    May 23, 2019 at 15:05
  • @georgeawg - When the computer is to blame, I agree that you shouldn't say 'Oops'. You should still use non-scary language. To be fair, in my (five year old!) answer, I did change context to a different situation, validation errors, to make the point that more casual language is more helpful. I can see how that could be confusing. May 24, 2019 at 19:27

Using informal language makes the error message more human and less intimidating. It also makes the blockage for the user less frustrating if it's language they can find humor or familiarity with. It's very much like adding a quirky illustration such as the Twitter 'fail whale' to lighten the situation. Like using "Error" or "Invalid" it is wise to add a reason for the error, and I'd suggest that language style should be consistent.


As others have said, it's an attempt to not scare the users. For example, I know someone who works at a company that writes software for devices that are used in the emergency room. One of the hospitals that uses this company's product has gotten very agitated about the application crashing. Why? In part because the application sometimes shows a message box that says Fatal error.

Imagine you're the programmer who wrote the application. You know what a fatal error is, and you don't find it alarming. It's unfortunate; it means you have to restart the application; it probably means you have a bug to fix; but it is hardly something to become agitated over.

Now imagine you are a surgeon in the operating room. You look over at one of the devices, and it is displaying Fatal error on the screen. Now, even if you are tech-savvy enough to know what this means, fatal is just not a word with good connotations. The word fatal is not well chosen for an operating room.

Rather, it would be good to have an failure message that encourages calmness. Something like "Sorry, the application has hit a glitch and needs to restart," would be less likely to alarm people who are working in a high-intensity situation.


In addition to being less intimidating, the language used in interfaces is part of a 1-on-1 conversation where you can afford to be casual, whereas language intended for a group tends to be more formal.

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