What is the word to describe "intended for human use or consumption", as in a document, or an image, or a sound?

For example:

  • The text of a book is intended for a human reader
  • An internet chat bot is intended for a human to interact with
  • A flowchart or a graph is intended to illustrate something to a human
  • The HTML code in a web document is intended for a computer to parse (and turn into a human-friendly visualization)
  • The sounds that a fax machine sends over a telephone line are intended for a computer
  • A bar code is intended for a computer
  • The address on an envelope, or the contents of a bank check, were originally intended for human readers, although these are increasingly processed automatically by machines

What is the word that distinguishes between these two categories (for-humans vs for-machines)?

  • It is intended to be read or understood by a machine, which is not always a computer (e.g. phone tones and bar codes). It seems strange to say that something is intended for a human to read. A book was never read by a machine historically, and chatbots don't talk to each other (although that might happen). Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 14:20
  • 1
    I'll make a note that we do have the expression "natural language" to distinguish English, French, etc., from, say, programming languages or markup languages. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 15:04

2 Answers 2



To read is to

to look at words or symbols and understand what they mean

in which sense no machine has ever read so much a jot or tittle yet, unless you are willing to be broad with your definition of "understand",


to understand and give a particular meaning to written information, a statement, a situation, etc.:

That is, I mean to say, reading is a peculiarly human activity in the first place, and the distinction between human- and machine-"readable" data is one that has gotten a lot of attention in the last hundred years or so. Still, the only one-word answer that I know is hyphenated: "human-readable"! It is used mainly in the context of computer-related information, like on softwareengineering.stackexchange but it can also be used for legalese translated to layman's terms.

Eric S. Raymond's compilation at catb.org says:

source: n. [very common] In reference to software, source is invariably shorthand for ‘source code’, the preferred human-readable and human-modifiable form of the program. This is as opposed to object code, the derived binary executable form of a program. This shorthand readily takes derivative forms; one may speak of “the sources of a system” or of “having source”.

There is also a verb for making some kind of otherwise obscure data more accessible to the human glance:

prettyprint: /prit-ee-print/, v. (alt.: pretty-print) 1. To generate ‘pretty’ human-readable output from a hairy internal representation; esp. used for the process of grinding (sense 1) program code, and most esp. for LISP code. 2. To format in some particularly slick and nontrivial way.

Edit: Another option, that I just now found in an answer at this (very similar) ELU Post: antonym for machine readable data, is "un-structured data" (vs. "structured" or "formal".

  • The problem with "human-readable" is that some things which are incidentally readable by humans (like source code) are actually intended for consumption by machines (compilers, interpreters). Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 17:13
  • As in written-to-be-human-readable? That's a lot to ask of one word...;)
    – Conrado
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 17:17
  • 3
    @AndreyMishchenko computer "source code" is intended to be read by both humans and machine. That is its purpose: an interface between the way people think and the way computers operate. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 17:29

Okay, I'll give it a go. What we're talking about here seems to be language of some kind presented in some way. Sow how about human-friendly as the modifier to characterize language "intended for human use or consumption"? Your examples:

Text of a book -- human-friendly

Internet chat bot -- human-friendly

Flowchart or graph -- human-friendly

HTML -- not human-friendly for most humans

Sounds a fax machine sends over a telephone line -- not human-friendly

Bar code -- not human-friendly

The address on an envelope readable by a machine -- not completely sure about this one, but I suspect that the format of addresses readable by computers is, like bar codes, not human-friendly

The contents of a bank check -- not completely sure about this one either, but the contents of a bank check readable by computers, e.g., account and routing numbers, appear-to contain characters that are not human-friendly

The flip side of human-friendly is machine-friendly.

HTML -- machine-friendly

Sounds a fax machine sends over a telephone line -- machine-friendly

Bar code -- machine-friendly

The address on an envelope readable by a machine -- machine-friendly

The contents of a bank check readable by computers -- machine-friendly

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