“Human Readers” A Tautology?

By Maeve Maddox

When I read this comment by Richard Lee Van Der Voort, I had to laugh:

Here’s one for you. Tonight on the internet I read “human readers”. Is there any other kind? My dog is intelligent, but she cannot read.

Like Richard, I felt that to refer to “human readers” made as much sense as talking about “female women.”

After a web search I’m no longer laughing.

The expression human readers has become a retronym.

Thanks to technology, there are non-human readers out there.

A search for “human readers” brought up about 50,400 hits, most of them from the medical field:

Are human readers needed for prognostication from stress myocardial perfusion SPECT?

Sensitivity of CT Colonography for Nonpolypoid Colorectal Lesions Interpreted by Human Readers and With Computer-Aided Detection

80-year-old man with 15-mm-wide nonpolypoid tubular adenoma in sigmoid colon that was identified by human reader on blinded review but was not detected by computer-aided detection.

The internet, with its robots and spiders, is another rich source for the expression’s use:

Content Optimization Checklist for Human Readers and SEO

Discovering Equilibrium Connecting Human Readers and Internet Spiders

Good quality content is vital in a search engine optimization campaign. Not only will it help search engines to categorise your website and promote it in the rankings, it will also help to draw in human readers and will help promote your site through word of mouth.

I even found the expression on a religious site where it was used to distinguish human readers from divine (or divinely-inspired) writers of the Bible:

The evangelical claims of inerrancy and infallibility, likewise, offer no place for humans to stand, no place from which human readers could approach or understand their inhuman text.

I’m forced to concede that human readers has found a niche in the language.

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5 Responses to ““Human Readers” A Tautology?”

  • Doug DePrenger

    I certainly enjoy your daily writing tips. They have helped immensely. I see people write something like: pre-developed but I see predetermined, too. When do you hyphenate?

  • Anuschka

    “… made as much sense as talking about ‘female women.’ ”

    Female women may not be a tautology. Living in San Francisco, I know several “women” whose physiology is not female but these folks live as women.

  • David

    I am surprised at your reluctance to accept “human readers.”

    Reading is nothing more than symbol recognition, processing the adjacent symbols or lack of same to determine meaning in order and context.

  • Precise Edit

    Hurrah for retronyms!

  • Richard Lee Van Der Voort

    Interesting to see that someone read something I wrote.
    “Human readers”, yes, sounds like something I would say or write. During my many, many years of life and writing, I became known for my neologisms and odd or poetic expressions including strange phrases that meant something to me or something I intended to mean at the time I wrote them. Writing is and has been an interesting thing to do because I like to address a subject and see what I have to say. I’m often surprised. LOL Richard Lee Van Der Voort AKA Old dog, American ex-pat in da Pilippines… as they say here.

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