I agree that a more helpful error message would be helpful here. I am an
experience Ubuntu terminal user. However, it is not intuitive to me that
showkey should require root privileges. I would not have guessed this as
a solution to resolve this error.

A new error message could take several forms:
  Current user cannot access a file descriptor referring to the console.
  Permission denied.
  You must run as root user.
  Are you root?
I personally prefer the most descriptive and helpful:
  Current user cannot access a file descriptor referring to the console. 
Perhaps you intended to run this as root?

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https://bugs.launchpad.net/bugs/1006676

Title:
  showkey fails with "Couldn't get a file descriptor referring to the
  console"

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