Hit cancel to retry; hit retry to cancel

Snapped this weekend at a movie theater in London: an automated ticket machine (confusingly abbreviated to "ATM" -- namespace collision ahoy!) with a sign on it explaining that if you don't want to cancel your transaction, you should press "cancel," while if you want to cancel your transaction, by all means, press "retry."


  1. Pretty easy to do, from a programming point of view, but holy shitballs did they ever fail even the most basic QA testing.

  2. In all fairness part of the issue here is the English language. Sure, this could be (much) better explained, but the language gets mangled easily once you’re in the middle of cancelling a transaction, and then you have a choice between really cancelling, or cancelling the cancelling (as it were) and continuing on to complete your transaction. In my day job (software tech writer) I find these cases the hardest to not mangle, and I untangle this stuff all day every day… so I have some sympathy.

    1. Nice spin. Doesn’t make sense, though. I took it to mean that the programmer just goofed and got the functions of cancel and retry buttons swapped in that one case.

      1. I have yet to meet a programmer who will admit they made a mistake. The programmer’s response, I suspect, will be the response I usually get: “The problem is not the design. The problem is the user.”

    2. The transaction has been completed as the ticket has been purchased and the person is now waiting for a ticket to be printed.

      I assume in normal circumstances that pressing retry would print out the ticket and pressing cancel would close the dialog. In this case, I’d guess that pressing retry does nothing and pressing cancel would close the dialog and print the ticket anyway.

      I’m not seeing much of a problem with the english language here.

  3. One time my wife and I used the ticket vending machines at the AMC near by, and we got blank tickets.  We went to the ticket booth, explained what happened, and they let us in.  (Good.) Best part? They let us keep the unvoided blank tickets. SCORE!  Free movies for life! ;)

    1.  I was thinking more along the lines of Xerox. I have a machine that displays this message: Press “OK” to cancel. Press “Cancel” to continue.

    2. I’ve always thought of it as START THE SHUT DOWN SEQUENCE. And then you sit there for 20 min waiting for background programs to close and god forbid another hour for updates to install.

  4. Apparently I’m the only one not seeing the problem here.
    My ticket doesn’t print, so there might be a window/box that tells me something (which I presume is something about my ticket not printing), and there I have the options of retry or cancel.  At that screen I should press cancel, but only if I see such screen (a new one that is different from the one I was conducting my transaction on, which I would assume is over with as I am now waiting for the ticket.)

    Yeah there is some kind of programming glitch, but the note didn’t seem all that confusing to me.

    1.  The sign doesn’t give all the information necessary to make a judgement about the real problem.

      However it is likely the programming encounters an exception prior to printing but after the monetary processing has completed (possibly committing the transaction to the database). The error is displayed with the option to “retry” whatever happened to cause the exception, or “cancel” which then proceeds to the next task which is printing the ticket. I don’t think “retry” cancels the entire transaction.

      Actually automated machines probably should not be displaying exception errors (it shows a vulnerability in the programming).

      1. This is an excellent explanation of why user interfaces should NOT be written by developers. 

        Writing a screen prompt that says “cancel” because it cancels the operation that is running in the program makes SO MUCH SENSE to a developer … and NONE to the person trying to figure out how to print a ticket.

    2. Yes, that’s also how I interpreted the message.  At that stage in the process the money will have already been taken and the machine is now printing your movie ticket… so I assume it’s a printing dialog box and not about cancelling the transaction.

  5. “If you have any problems please find a member of staff to help.”

    Any problems huh?

    Thank God for some people. Everything they do makes everything I do look that much better.

  6. couldn’t one of the staff just print out “cancel” and “retry” labels and put them on the correct buttons until a fix can be made? seems a lot less work and less confusing than that sign

  7. The issue here is that in British, the word for cancel is “retry,” while the word for “to try again” is cancel.  Did you know they also have over one hundred words for suet?  It’s true!

  8. You may think that calling it ATM may be confusing but thats becuse your a yank and speak american where as we are English and speake English.

    What you call an ATM (atuomatic teller machine) Is in fact called a “Cash Machine” in English or a “Cash Point” There for

    ATM is fine for a “Automatic Ticket Machine” for English speakers who are English, speaking the Queens English not american.

    1. Oh how I love comments pointing out language confusions that are full of grammar and spelling mistakes. Or is that supposed to be ironic? There are so many idiots, it’s hard to differentiate between stupidity and irony.
      This must be irony though. Surely, please god may it be irony.

      Myself, I was confusing the ATM with a networking protocol.   Assumed it was a networking glitch between CPU and printer.

      1. I hesitate to mention it, lest I err in so doing, but I’m still stuck on wondering what the missing word is.

        “There’s a problem with the ATM’s what?”

        1. Yeah, it is very uncomfortable participating in a thread that has become Grammar Nazified :)  In case of emergency either claim dyslexia, a typo, or being too busy having loads of sex to be bothered.

          There are a few of these cases where the use of apostrophes doesn’t have clear rules.  There seems to be a consensus that apostrophes shouldn’t be used merely to form a plural (DVDs, ATMs, 1980s) except where it really, really seems necessary (and I don’t mean pizzas).  This topic actually provides a good example, because it’s all about the use of apostrophes before s’s.

      1. He is. But the fact remains that ‘ATM’ isn’t used in the UK, we say ‘cash machine’ or ‘cash point’, exactly as described by this person.

        The poor commentator may not have put it as eloquently as some people require, but calling the ticket machine an ATM is unlikely to confuse any English people. Evidently it is able to confuse Canadians (Cory’s Canadian right?) living in England – and perhaps the odd member of the younger generation that watches nothing but American television.

        1. ATM works here in Eastern Canada, but people often say ‘bank machine’.

          While I can here to say “There is a problem with the use of apostrophes..”, I want to add: …a member of staff..
          Are articles more expensive in London this time of year? 
          Or is ‘staff member’ not in general use in the UK?  Or maybe just Burnistoun?

          1. Mr. Hornby’s right but the Americanisation of the British language is such that most people would assume “ATM” to mean a cash machine (however reluctantly). I, for one, would never assume it to mean a ticket machine, but the fact that the sticker’s slapped on to one means it’s not really a problem.

            Meanwhile “a member of staff” is perfectly normal and acceptable English.

        2. Nathan,

          That fact you mention–atm isn’t in general use in the UK–is a lesson I had to learn the hard way.  It didn’t take more than 2 blank stares for me to figure out no one knew what I was talking abou when I moved here.

          What I was really trying to point out was how odd I thought it was that Corey would mention the confusion being from the UK, I think, and living there again.  I’ve gotten to the point myself where my US friends ask me what I mean occasionally (bin, mobile, rubbish, etc…).  Furthermore, our 6 year-old daughter will have a heck of a time with rubber  ;^)

          1. :)

            Ah, not being fully versed in Cory’s past I couldn’t say – as I didn’t realise that he may or may not have originally been from the UK. Either way his lady wife should be vetting these things – as you must know us Brits are very particular about our language.

          2. Cory’s from Toronto, eh.

            Edited to ask, since the whole thread is about pedantry and the English language: “lady wife”?

            As opposed to, um, “country wife”? “Uncouth wife”? “Ewe wife”? “Trap wife”?

          3. us Brits are very particular about our language.

            As in competing to see who can do the worst job of mangling it?

  9. Who said anything about pressing retry to cancel? I suspect the error is something unrelated to printing the tickets, so pressing retry will just show the same error again and again while pressing cancel will ignore /that/ error and then go on to print tickets.

    Seriously has everyone forgotten how those error dialogues work?

  10. There used to be a wonderful bit in IBM DisplayWrite (and probably quite a few other programs for the PC) which said:

    Press Enter to exit
    Press Escape to resume

    Hmmm … 

  11. I think the programmers do this on purpose when they’re annoyed about pay rates.  They laugh at the anonymous future participants in their games of chance.

    My favourite is – one of the UK bank cash dispensing machines (just to dispense with the above controversy) makes a “bong” sound each time you successfully do something and need to do something else.  After four or so bongs, you’re trained to respond.  But it doesn’t bong when it spits your card out, or your money.

    Guess what happens next?

    The programmers HAVE to have a backdoor feed to the video record.

  12. Playing Farcry3 at the moment and in the profile menu there is a Back button to move up to a parent menu. When pressing this button, a confirmation appears with two buttons: Continue and Back. Guess which one confirms your first choice? Continue allows you to continue on your way to the parent level. The second Back button takes you back to the child menu where you first pressed Back.

  13. Just on the subsidiary point:  I don’t think this use of ‘ATM’ is a problem in the UK.  I recognise the US abbreviation, but wouldn’t expect to encounter it here.

          1. Ah, gotcha! That was actually a typo that’s since been corrected :) Thanks though, I do appreciate some good apostrophe trivia.

            (I loved the Dandy; Dando’s murder, not so much).

    1. although it’s not exactly in common usage in the UK, it does show up sometimes and I (having lived nowhere else) would recognise it as such – I definitely would never in a million years interpret it to mean “automated ticket machine”. If I encountered that sign on a ticket machine I’d probably momentarily wonder where the cash machine was, and why there was a sign on the ticket machine warning me about it, before I realised what they were actually getting at. 

      1. I used to work at a movie theater and I’m racking my brain trying to think of what the ‘official’ name of the machines were. The only thing remarkable about them was that kids could buy R rated tickets and management didn’t care, and that anybody could buy a senior/military discount ticket and the meer ticket rippers didn’t care.

  14. Software developers – keeping us technical writers in business with their inability to design interfaces that make any sense and utter hubris preventing them from asking someone else (maybe someone in the company who writes for a living? hint hint)  to write the screen prompts for them.

    1.  What makes me sad is that I don’t see this getting better (and by that I mean I literally don’t see it now, as well as I don’t anticipate it). We humans have made a lot of progress by learning from our mistakes, but this kind of thing is ubiquitous but apparently so low-level that there is no way to achieve a critical mass such that the same UI mistakes aren’t made over and over (like the various examples in these comments).

      After the Mac first came out there was actually a “bible” of sorts for Mac programmers for user interface — it’s long gone, but I think it had a lot to do with why Macs were so user friendly from the start…

      1. There’s a concept within software development that, ideally, you write the manual and the user interface (buttons and screen design) first, then develop the backend functionality to that. I’ve heard this way of working talked about in almost mythical terms by user interface developers, tech writers, and technical support personnel. 

        However, in my 20 years of experience in engineering and software development, it has pretty much never worked that way – I did have one job where I was working with a user interface developer on a brand new piece of software and my job was to write a guide explaining how every single button, drop down list, and radio button would behave, which the programmers were supposed to follow as a guideline for their work; however, as this particular team of programmers had produced one of the strangest user interfaces I had ever seen, I did not have high hopes for them actually following the guidelines that I was writing.Because programmers are the “stars” and a lot of the managers of software projects are programmers themselves, they almost do not see the rest of the team of people involved in creating a product. Marketing, customer support, technical writers, sales people – none of these people are considered to have any knowledge about how a program should work. The programmers go on headlong with almost no planning and develop the functionality based on what interests them the most. The design is a complete afterthought, often cobbled on throughout development and then hurriedly fixed right as the product is about to be released. At my current job, they recently released a product to the field with most of the help functions completely missing, even though there is a huge button on every page for opening help. The programmers and testing team never even thought to look at or test what happened when a curious user pressed the giant help button on any given page. Many of the programmers do not speak English as a first language, yet it would never cross their minds that writing an incomprehensible error message could create a problem for the people who have to use the program.

        1.  So true – I remember thinking as well that programs should be developed from the outside in – design the user interface first, then get the programmers to make it happen…

  15. When I first got my corporate bank card with China Construction Bank the lady took me over to the ATM to show me how to use it because, in the middle of the transaction, you get a window where pressing OK will make it impossible to continue or get money and may, if you are sufficiently persistent, get your card eaten.  (And getting this card replaced or returned not only requires my passport, it also requires my business license…)

    Despite the fact that directions clearly indicate that you should not press “cancel” you must do that.It’s been over a year.It still hasn’t changed.

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