Re: Cleaning House

Tina Holmboe wrote:

>   The I-element was introduced in HTML 2.0, and defined as
>   follows:
>      "The <I> element indicates italic text."
>   This was reconfirmed in HTML 3.2, and in addition the
>   element was moved from the "Typographic Elements" section and
>   into "Font style". In HTML 4.0 and 4.01 the same is
>   true: the definition of <i> remain the same.

The real discussion here is turning out to be about what we can 
reasonably conclude when an author uses <i>, which has almost nothing to 
do with the specs. But on reviewing the documents in question, it's 
perhaps worth noting that this isn't an especially accurate summary.

Even HTML 2.0 says that <i> may be have other representations when 
italic is not available.

HTML 3.2 does actually imply <i> is a form of emphasis. See the 
introduction to the font styles section, which says:

> User agents should do their best to respect nested emphasis, e.g.
> This has some <B>bold and <I>italic text</I></B>.
> Where the available fonts are restricted or for speech output,
> alternative means should be used for rendering differences in emphasis.

One could conclude from this text that <i> should never be used for 
anything other than emphasis in HTML 3.2, that its use for book titles, 
ship names, movie titles, and mere presentation is wrong, and that <em> 
("basic emphasis typically rendered in an italic font") is actually the 
more generic element, since it has no rendering requirements whatsoever.

HTML 4.01 does something rather odd in that it fails to define the 
interpretation or rendering of <i> normatively at all:

So if it's false to say that <i> implies emphasis in standard HTML 4.01, 
it's also not strictly true to say that <i> indicates italic.

Maybe the slightly odd additional remark that "[r]endering of nested 
font style elements depends on the user agent" was intended to cater to 
exactly the problem I've been raising of <i> elements nested inside text 
styled italic.

The conclusion I draw from this is that HTML specs are almost as weird 
as authoring practice. ;)

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis

Received on Sunday, 6 May 2007 13:25:23 UTC