I am looking for a word that means plain old normal data. I am trying to express the size of a database and clarify that doesn't contain any images or videos or audio files so that the number is meaningful (1.2TB of video isn't nearly as much data to manage as 1.2TB of text).

The databases each contain approximately 1.2 terabytes of [insert_word_here] data.

My gut is leaning toward the word textual but that does not sound right to me, since there are plenty of other data types in a database (numeric, decimal, XML to name a few) that don't fit my personal concept of text.

Is textual a good fit here? What word conveys what I am trying to explain?

  • 4
    I would just call that "plain text" data.
    – Robusto
    Feb 1, 2012 at 18:47
  • 1
    I would say "real data." It will make it sound like the data is important and must be impressive, and they won't want to ask what fake data is.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Feb 1, 2012 at 19:47
  • 1
    Go with your gut. I don't see a reason why "textual" should not include numbers and symbols (<>="' etc.). Feb 2, 2012 at 1:26

7 Answers 7


I would normally call this "plain text".

In computing, plain text is the contents of an ordinary sequential file readable as textual material without much processing, usually opposed to formatted text. - wikipedia

  • Beat me to it. You might want to quote from here instead.
    – Gnawme
    Feb 2, 2012 at 0:07
  • In IT context, "plain text" does not denote data type, rather, it means "flat file" where data is stored into .txt file or something like.
    – Mustafa
    Feb 2, 2012 at 18:25
  • @Mustafa A flat file database is merely one example of plain text. Feb 2, 2012 at 18:28

The data type which includes image, video and audio is named as "binary data". So, if you are storing data that you want to represent as text, such as a blog post or product description you may use "non-binary string data".

If you want to store data that are merely bytes such as data that represents image, then you use a binary string data type.


I'd say "text data". If you want to be a lit more technical, I'd say "text and numeric data". I'd consider XML or other marked-up text to still be "text". When we need to distinguish between HTML, XML, RTF, etc and text without markup, we normally say something like "plain text" versus "marked-up text" or "tagged text".

"Text data" is a common term that anyone in the business would understand -- possibly with some ambiguity about whether it includes XML or a Word doc or that sort of thing, but they would surely understand that it does NOT include images, audio file, video, binary code, etc. A non-professional would have a reasonable chance of figuring out what you mean even if you didn't explain further.

So sure, you could invent some phrase that would be more technically precise, but no one would know what you meant unless you explained it. And if you're going to explain it, you might as well use a simple, common term and explain that. Save inventing new words for when you've really invented a new concept.


I would use the word primitive. Many programming languages (e.g. Java) distinguish between between primitive data (e.g. int, boolean) and non-primitive data (e.g. objects, functions). Fields of primitive type are stored directly in their enclosing object, while object fields are stored as pointers. This matches exactly with the distinction between textual, numeric, date, etc. columns of a database and binary data. The primitive data is stored directly in the tables, while the binary data is stored separately and a memory location is stored in the table.

  • I'd have to disagree. Even if we're talking in Java analogies, text data would not be stored as a primitive type unless you want to store each char separately (note the spelling btw ;-) - instead, it would most likely be stored as a String instance (which is not a primitive). Feb 2, 2012 at 1:16
  • It's true that Strings are objects in Java, but that's a design choice specific to Java (a choice that is not shared by C++ for example). Strings are sometimes stored as binary data in databases too (e.g. the TEXT datatype in MySQL). Feb 2, 2012 at 1:52
  • C stores text as an array of char, and an array is not a primitive type. C++ gives the choice of the C style or using a cstring object, which is not a primitive type. Either way, it's not a primitive. And we're wandering from English to programming here. A language could declare strings to be a primitive type I suppose -- who decides what the definition of a primitive is? -- but then it would only be meaningful to use the word in the context of a particular language.
    – Jay
    Feb 2, 2012 at 15:53

I would probably use tabular, even though literally it just means “in tables”. I think it would offer the implication that the data are of the sort that are typical of tables, such as text and numbers.

  • I like this because it answers the question with one word and helps achieve the overall goal of making the database sound as if the information is more difficult to manage than if it was simply video/audio/etc.
    – hspain
    Feb 1, 2012 at 19:08
  • Another possibility is atomic.
    – MetaEd
    Feb 1, 2012 at 19:14
  • I'm not sure whether by "tables" you mean database tables or tables in a document. But you can certainly put images in either one. (And personally, I always keep my photographs in a table -- the top left drawer of the table in my office.)
    – Jay
    Feb 1, 2012 at 21:27
  • Cute! I would probably not refer to data stored in a drawer of a table as tabular data though.
    – MetaEd
    Feb 1, 2012 at 21:34
  • 1
    Not all text data is tabled. This is a "no." Feb 2, 2012 at 1:43

What's the matter with ASCII, with EBCDIC for the old-fashioned and Unicode for the new-? For that matter, why not simply TXT?

Really, unless you're simply talking at the level of bits in sequence, there is no such thing as "pure text data". There's always some formatting, whether it's graphics, alphanumerics, syntax, pages, chapters, or some other combination. And that always requires some variety of interpretation (for which there are accepted names) in order to capture the embedded information.

Writing is a very poor way of representing language, but it hobbles along with the aid of lots of conventional formatting prostheses. Whether these are "pure", or not, I couldn't say.

  • RE no such thing as pure text data: Arguably you cannot present or display text without some formatting, in the sense that you must use SOME font, SOME text and background color, etc. But you can certainly STORE text with no formatting information.
    – Jay
    Feb 1, 2012 at 21:22
  • RE writing as a poor way of representing language: Hmm, what is "language" if not the thing that we write? Are you thinking that spoken language is "real" language and writing is an attempt to reproduce it in another form? Who says that writing is not real language and speaking an alternative method of transmitting it?
    – Jay
    Feb 1, 2012 at 21:25
  • Oh, dear, not this again. OK, executive summary: Spoken language (a redundancy) is common to all humans everywhere and dates back at least 100,000 years; one learns it automatically, like walking. "Written language" is one of many technologically-produced representations of spoken languages, dates back no further than 10,000 years max, you have to go to school to learn it, and more people in the world are illiterate than are literate. Still. All the rules of grammar refer to speech and speech sounds. I could go on. I won't. Feb 1, 2012 at 21:54
  • Hmm, we're way off track here, but I have a number of quibbles with that post. Like for starters, how do you know how long spoken language existed before writing was invented? Is that based on historical documents? But by definition there were none before writing was invented. Archaeological evidence? Like ... what?
    – Jay
    Feb 2, 2012 at 15:37
  • Where do you get the datum that "more people in the world are illiterate than are literate"? This site -- newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Literacy -- claims that the world illiteracy rate is about 17%.
    – Jay
    Feb 2, 2012 at 15:42

I would use the term raw data.

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