The word error has different meanings and usages relative to how it is conceptually applied. The concrete meaning of the Latin word error is "wandering" or "straying". To the contrary of an illusion, an error or a mistake can sometimes be dispelled through knowledge (knowing that one is looking at a mirage and not at real water doesn't make the mirage disappear). However, some errors can occur even when individuals have the required knowledge to perform a task correctly. Examples include forgetting to collect your change after buying chocolate from a vending machine, forgetting the original document after making photocopies, and forgetting to turn the gas off after cooking a meal. These slip errors can occur when an individual is distracted by something else.
An ‘error' is a deviation from accuracy or correctness. A ‘mistake' is an error caused by a fault: the fault being misjudgment, carelessness, or forgetfulness. Now, say that I run a stop sign because I was in a hurry, and wasn't concentrating, and the police stop me, that is a mistake. If, however, I try to park in an area with conflicting signs, and I get a ticket because I was incorrect on my interpretation of what the signs meant, that would be an error. The first time it would be an error. The second time it would be a mistake since I should have known better.
In human behavior the norms or expectations for behavior or its consequences can be derived from the intention of the actor or from the expectations of other individuals or of a social grouping or from social norms. (See deviance.) Gaffes and faux pas can be labels for certain instances of this kind of error. More serious departures from social norms carry labels such as misbehavior and labels from the legal system, such as misdemeanor and crime. Departures from norms connected to religion can have other labels, such as sin.
Oral and written language
An individual language user's deviations from standard language norms in grammar, syntax, pronunciation and punctuation are sometimes referred to as errors. However in light of the role of language usage in everyday social class distinctions, many feel that linguistics should be descriptive rather than prescriptive to avoid reinforcing dominant class value judgments about what linguistic forms should and should not be used.
See also: microphone gaffe
A gaffe is a verbal mistake, usually made in a social environment. The mistake may come from saying something that is true, but inappropriate. It may also be an erroneous attempt to reveal a truth. Finally, gaffes can be malapropisms, grammatical errors or other verbal and gestural weaknesses or revelations through body language. Actually revealing factual or social truth through words or body language, however, can commonly result in embarrassment or, when the gaffe has negative connotations, friction between people involved.
A grammatical or literary error is more embarrassing in the company of intellectuals, professors or serious students, just as errors of science can be embarrassing among scientists or doctors. The protagonist attorney in the film Liar Liar plays on the nature of truth revelation, however, and its ambiguous or unexpected consequences.
As used by some journalists, particularly sportswriters, "gaffe" becomes an imagined synonym for any kind of mistake, e.g., a dropped ball by a player in a baseball game. Philosophers and psychologists interested in the nature of the gaffe include Freud and Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze, in his Logic of Sense, places the gaffe in a developmental process that can culminate in stuttering.
Society is the offspring of age upon age of trial and error; it is what survived the selective adjustments and readjustments in the successive stages of mankind's agelong rise from animal to human levels of planetary status. The great danger to any civilization--at any one moment--is the threat of breakdown during the time of transition from the established methods of the past to those new and better, but untried, procedures of the future.
- Robinson, P. "In the Matter of:The Gatekeeper: The Gate Contracts"
- United States Central Intelligence Agency. Analytic Culture in the U.S. Intelligence Community. Retrieved August 30, 2008.