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Re: Cleaning House

From: Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis <bhawkeslewis@googlemail.com>
Date: Sun, 06 May 2007 12:09:11 +0100
Message-ID: <463DB757.9030300@googlemail.com>
To: Philip & Le Khanh <Philip-and-LeKhanh@Royal-Tunbridge-Wells.Org>
CC: www-html@w3.org, public-html@w3.org

Philip & Le Khanh wrote:

> How an element "falls back in most graphical browsers" is completely
> and utterly irrelevant to its semantics.  If the semantics of HTML
> were defined by how each element in it "falls back in most graphical
> browsers", then HTML would be 100% presentational.  Instead, the
> semantics are defined by the specification,

Yes and no. Even elements in a 100% presentational markup language would 
be used with discernible intent. There is a difference between the 
meaning (semantics) the specifications give to elements and what 
particular authors mean by using them. When these conflict, privileging 
one semantic over another will precipitate a communication failure. One 
of the guiding principles of the WHATWG efforts seems to have been to 
help user agents interpret HTML based on what authors usually mean, 
rather than what specs say they should have meant and what conforming 
authors actually did mean; the idea being to standardize interpretations 
in a way that keeps communication failure to a minimum. This approach is 
not without problems, but nor is it atypical of standardization 
processes generally.

> and (in most cases) heuristically inferable from the name of the element (for
> educated native speakers of English).

Actually I think that's only true in a minority of cases: blockquote, 
table, i, b, u, font, img, form, button, title. Names like a, td, and 
pre are cryptic, names like address, caption, and map are deceptive, 
names like object, area, and script are vague, and names like acronym 
and cite are commonly misunderstood by even educated native speakers.

> And when I asked
> 
>>> Forgive my na\"\i vety, but which authority are
>>> you citing when you make this statement ?
> 
> and you responded
> 
>> The authority of someone with 30+ years as a technical writer,
>> 20+ years in SGML, HTML, XML and so on, and an original
>> member of the earliest HTML Working Groups. 
> 
> I was actually seeking the /identity/ of the authority you
> were citing, rather than his/her experience in the field.
> As is invariably the case, it is necessary to understand
> the semantics of a question before being able to give a
> satisfactory answer.

Just to clarify, the "someone" is Murray himself. But I think he's wrong 
about the intended meaning of <i>, since when movie titles, species, and 
foreign phrases are italicized that is meant to distinguish them from 
surrounding text but not to emphasize (stress) them.

--
Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis
Received on Sunday, 6 May 2007 11:18:02 GMT

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