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Re: Abbreviations and Acronyms: [techs] Latest HTML Techniques Draft

From: Jukka K. Korpela <jkorpela@cs.tut.fi>
Date: Wed, 25 Feb 2004 00:10:35 +0200 (EET)
To: www-html@w3.org
Cc: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.GSO.4.58.0402242350530.10813@korppi.cs.tut.fi>

On Tue, 24 Feb 2004, Charles McCathieNevile wrote:

> So I don't
> know if there is a standard english definition of the difference betgween
> these two terms.

I think this summarizes the situation rather well (though I don't know
whether Chaals wrote it as the basic conclusion). There is no standard
definition for "abbreviation" and "acronym" that anything in HTML could be
built upon. Moreover, <abbr> markup is still ignored by the market leader,
and even if the specifications were changed to say what <acronym> really
means, many authors have used and would use it for pronounceable words.

In a word, both <abbr> and <acronym> are useless on the Web, except
perhaps in specialized applications. Anything one can achieve with them
can be achieved using <span> (and CSS). Yes, it's less semantic, and
that's good, since it's better to say nothing about semantics than to say
something that will be interpreted one way half of the time and in a completely
different way otherwise.

Regarding WAI recommendations, I think all references to <abbr> and
<acronym> should be removed. The guidelines should tell that any
abbreviations, initialisms, special symbols, and technical notations used
in a document should be suitably explained in a document, or in a linked
document, except perhaps with very common expressions and expressions that
can reasonably be expected to be understood by anyone who could benefit
from the document.

The serious thing is that WAI guidelines can be read as requiring that
every abbreviation and acronym be marked up using <abbr> or <acronym>.
(They don't even say whether all occurrences or just the first one should
be marked up. Since browsers don't do anything with a string just because
a preceding occurrence the same string was marked up somehow, the logical
conclusion seems to be that all occurrences should be marked up.)

Regarding HTML specifications, <abbr> and <acronym> would best be
deprecated right now. XHTML 2.0 should introduce suitable new markup which
distinguishes pronunciation information (if deemed relevant in HTML and
not a purely presentation issue to be delegated to CSS) from semantic
information. I would suggest <sym>, for "symbol", defined as indicating
that the (inline) content is not to be taken as a normal word but as a
symbol of some other kind, such as an abbreviation, initialism, special
symbol, or code. But the new features to be introduced are less relevant
now than stopping the pointless and confusing introduction of markup with
poorly defined semantics and questionable implementations.

(For some more arguments in favor of explaining abbreviations, acronyms,
symbols, and notations, instead of using <abbr> and <acronym> markup, see
http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/html/abbr.html )

Jukka "Yucca" Korpela, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/
Received on Tuesday, 24 February 2004 17:10:38 UTC

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