Abort, Retry, Fail? is a catch-all error message displayed by newer versions of MS-DOS when it is unable to read necessary data from media. It replaced Abort, Retry, Ignore? from MS-DOS 3.30 onwards.
The message would prompt the user to hit "A" to abort the operation, "R" to try reading the data again, or "F" to attempt to proceed without the necessary data. Since it would not allow the user to proceed unless they picked one of the three options, and because sometimes none of the options would result in any progress, it has become programmer parlance for uncompromising, vague error messages. As a storage device became corrupt, retrieval would become inconsistent, and Retry often did result in correctly retrieved data.
Sometimes, this message would read Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? This often made little difference in the ability to proceed.
Subsequent uses of the phrase
- In 1996, White Town released an EP called Abort, Retry, Fail?.
- PC Magazine used the term as the title of its column highlighting humorous computer-related errors, before renaming it "Backspace". Since then, however, the column was once again renamed to "Abort, Retry, Fail?".
- A quote from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri reads: "Abort, Retry, Fail?" was the phrase some wormdog scrawled next to the door of the Edit Universe project room. And when the new dataspinners started working, fabricating their worlds on the huge organic comp systems, we'd remind them: if you see this message, always'' choose "Retry.