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Re: When is a first letter not a :first-letter?

From: David Walbert <dwalbert@learnnc.org>
Date: Mon, 30 Jun 2008 09:07:41 -0400
Message-Id: <F23FF9AA-6BA9-46B0-A058-2B29D9DC39B9@learnnc.org>
To: Ambrose Li <ambrose.li@gmail.com>, www-style@w3.org

On Jun 30, 2008, at 12:14 AM, Ambrose Li wrote:

> But I would tend to think that normal typographic practice would
> more likely treat a number as the same class as a letter but not
> punctuation.

For "normal typographic practice" the main use case would be  
something like a drop cap, and I'd never make a numeral into a drop  
cap. But best practice in English is if your sentence starts with a  
number to spell it out rather than using numerals -- which means it's  
a moot point whether the numeral is a "first letter" for styling  
purposes; styling that first numeral would be a questionable  
presentation of bad editing.

Given all that, I'd leave the numeral as a "first letter" in case  
somebody had a real need or desire to style it.

At the same time, I wonder about initial punctuation. If I want a  
drop cap at the top of a page, but the first sentence starts with a  
quotation, traditional practice is to remove the initial quotation  
mark. If I don't remove the punctuation the drop cap would look  
silly, but I leave it in and CSS does not consider punctuation a  
"first-letter", then presumably there's no drop cap -- in which case  
my styles are inconsistent -- or else the second character, i.e. the  
first letter after the quote mark, will be styled -- which will look  
awful. Either way is bad, and requires me editing my text to make the  
styling work. But that's what I'd have to do anyway, regardless of  
how CSS defines a first letter. I wonder, then, whether it might  
simply cause confusion to have CSS treat any first character as not a  
"first letter"? Perhaps it would be best to remain agnostic on the  
issue and assume that authors will edit and style appropriately?  
"First letter" is still a reasonable handle for what is really the  
first character, since for practical purposes it will nearly always  
be a letter.

Best,

David

___________________________________
David J. Walbert
Editorial & Web Director
LEARN NC
UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education
Received on Monday, 30 June 2008 13:08:40 GMT

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