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[whatwg] Problems with the definition of <cite>

From: Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis <bhawkeslewis@googlemail.com>
Date: Sun, 21 Jan 2007 09:37:05 +0000
Message-ID: <1169372225.10806.25.camel@galahad>
Matthew Paul Thomas wrote:

> I could have said "in my 24 years of reading in a wide variety of 
> fields I have never, not once, come across a document that 
> intentionally used italics to indicate it was quoting someone", but I 
> was trying to be concise.

What I really meant was, there is no reason for this not be a
typographical form as peculiar to the web as blue underlined hyperlinks.

> > There are even situations where this would be appropriate in
> > modern English, which seems to be your frame of reference here. For
> > example, when cited as the source of a quotation from a transcript in
> > British legal writing: "Counsel's name should appear in upper-and
> > lower-case italics" (Oxford Guide to Style (ISBN 0-19-869175-0), 423).
> If counsel themselves quotes someone else, does the transcript 
> italicize the name of that someone else?

Seems to be only counsel. Judges get small caps. Why this formatting
applies only when quoting them, I don't claim to understand.

> I think what you're describing is a transcript, which should use 
> <dialog> (wherein you can style <dt> to be italic), not <cite>.

I don't think the Guide is describing an extract of a transcript
dialogue with multiple speakers. If it had been, it would be
inappropriate to site a single person as the "source" of the extract.

> >> Therefore, that's not what Web authors
> >
> > Notorious for their understandable errors.
> Which is relevant, because semantic markup is useful to the extent that 
> Web authors don't make errors using it.
> >> -- or even HTML reference authors 
> >
> > Justly notorious for promoting such mistakes through misinformation.
> Ditto.

Well, web authors' errors are understandable because the HTML references
they learn from are themselves misleading. Since there is literally no
form of semantic markup that HTML references are not capable of
misdescribing, the implication seems to be that semantic markup
is /never/ useful. And as most of HTML is semantic markup, HTML doesn't
sound very useful ...

> >> -- understand <cite> to be for.
> >> <http://htmlhelp.com/reference/html40/phrase/cite.html>
> >> <http://webdesign.about.com/od/htmltags/p/bltags_cite.htm>
> >> <http://urlx.org/microsoft.com/eec70>
> >
> > Sorry, I can't take MSDN seriously. They don't even correct clear 
> > errors when informed about them (and I /have/ told them about this 
> > one):
> >
> > http://forums.microsoft.com/MSDN/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=745161&SiteID=1
> Good for you, but did you really expect Microsoft to make changes that 
> reflect the behavior of neither their own browser nor (in the case of 
> <cite>) anyone else's?


1. I don't equate the default styling with what <cite> means.

2. I don't think italics is intrinsically an inappropriate styling for

3. I think browser documentation should note, not occlude, differences
from a cited spec (HTML 3.2: "used for citations or references to other

So I would have hoped they'd fix it.

> > If MSDN is supposed to be the measure for HTML5, we might as well pack
> > it in, since they'll misrepresent whatever the spec says anyhow. Also, 
> > I think you're being unfair to htmlhelp.com, who say:
> >
> >> The CITE element is used to markup citations, such as titles of
> >> magazines or newspapers, ship names, references to other sources, and
> >> quotation attributions. Visual browsers typically render CITE as
> >> italic text, but authors can suggest a rendering using style sheets.
> >
> > This description is /entirely/ compatible with the usage under
> > discussion ("quotation attributions").
> Quotable ships? Whatever next?

Yes I grant you "ship names" is somewhat odd. They don't imply ships are
quotable at all, since citations don't have to be attached to quotations
or even be a source for some statement. But I suspect the thinking is
ship names are italicised because they are unique names given to special
artifacts, like books and paintings, and are therefore cited as works.
Here are four other people who seem to think references to ships are




(that one's the man himself)


> And if that issue, and the others you listed, prevent the 
> redefinition, I think the next best solution would be to drop <cite> 
> entirely. If a semantic element is needed for citations, introduce a 
> <citation> element that legacy browsers won't italicize.

Given legacy browser support for stylesheets, I think the problem of
mistaken italicization /isn't/ much of a problem. But I'd have no
objection to introducing <citation>. I'm not sure how to disambiguate
it, short of adding <booktitle>, <periodicaltitle>, <artworktitle>, and
<compositiontitle>. Oh, and <vehiclename>. ;)

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis
Received on Sunday, 21 January 2007 01:37:05 UTC

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