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Re: less than normal importance/emphasis

From: Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>
Date: Wed, 17 Dec 2008 22:21:22 +0000 (UTC)
To: Mikko Rantalainen <mikko.rantalainen@peda.net>, Tina Holmboe <tina@greytower.net>, "Jukka K. Korpela" <jkorpela@cs.tut.fi>, Leif Halvard Silli <lhs@malform.no>
Cc: www-html@w3.org, 'HTML WG Public List' <public-html@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.62.0812172203310.30225@hixie.dreamhostps.com>

On Tue, 15 Apr 2008, Mikko Rantalainen wrote:
> I'm still wondering if HTML5 should define an element for less than 
> normal importance or emphasis.
> Ian Hickson wrote:
> > On Wed, 11 May 2005, fantasai wrote:
> >>   # Note: The small element does not "de-emphasise" or lower the
> >>   # importance of text emphasised by the em element or marked as
> >>   # important with the strong element.
> >>
> >>   Does <small> de-emphasize the text at all? This paragraph implies
> >>   that it does, except within <em> or <strong>, but it is not clear
> >>   from the definition.
> > 
> > I think it would be hard to argue that making text smaller isn't 
> > de-emphasising the text. I mean, the whole point of hiding legalese in 
> > small text is to make the reader not read it.
> So <small> means less important than normal (default) importance of 
> plain text, if I've understood correctly when used outside <em> or 
> <strong>. However, it does not lower the importance/emphasis of <em> or 
> <strong>. I don't like this difference.

The <small> element in HTML5 as currently defined doesn't remove stress 
emphasis (<em>) or remove importance (<strong>), or indicate that the text 
has no stress emphasis or importance. It only indicates that its contents 
are "small print", which may well be important, but is something the 
author is kind of "hiding in plain sight".

> Is there a difference in the semantics of these two examples:
> 1) <p><small><strong>License: GFDL</strong></small></p>
> and
> 2) <p><strong><small>License: GFDL</small></strong></p> ?

Not really.

> Does the <small> element mean different things when it's a child of
> <strong> or <em> or any other element?


> > On Thu, 3 Aug 2006, Jonathan Worent wrote:
> >> If this cannot be done then I would suggest as an alternative: Add 2 new 
> >> elements. One for indicating de-emphasis, One of indicating less 
> >> importance. I leave the naming of them to you.
> > 
> > Less importance can be done just by ending the <strong> element. Side 
> > notes can be marked with <small>. I don't think there is a concept of 
> > "less than normal stress emphasis" that really makes sense to mark up.
> If I have a sentence where the less important part is in the middle of 
> the sentence but the whole sentence is important, I would want to mark 
> up the whole sentence as a single element. I think that there's a 
> difference between
> <p><strong>An important sentence <small>with less important part</small>
> continues...</strong></p>
> and
> <p><strong>An important sentence</strong> with less important part
> <strong> continues...</strong></p>

Well, the first is saying that it's all important but part of it is being 
said quickly so as to not draw attention to it despite its importance, 
whereas the second is saying that the first and last part are important.

> Perhaps it's just me, but I think that the latter markup represents that 
> there're two separate important parts in that paragraph. I think there 
> should be exactly one important part and one less important part.

There _are_ two important parts. For example:

   <p><strong>Do not press the red button</strong> if the light is 
   showing, as <strong>it will delete all your data!</strong></p>

> > On Fri, 9 Feb 2007, Mikko Rantalainen wrote:
> >> I believe that <aside> and <small> are different from de-emphasis (that 
> >> would be <dem> IMHO). However, the <dem> element wouldn't be that often 
> >> used and it would be vital for it to be easily implemented. A new 
> >> element with specified semantics and a simple default CSS style would be 
> >> a nice choice. An example *implementation* could be a single CSS rule:
> >>
> >> 	dem { opacity: 0.8 }
> >>
> >> How hard it would be to implement the behavior David described above? 
> >> Take any existing UA as a base.
> > 
> > What would this element mean?
> <dem> would mean "less emphasized / lower importance than the 
> surrounding content". I believe that the separation between less 
> emphasized and lowered importance is not required so only one element is 
> enough.

I don't understand what this means in practice. I don't recall ever 
reading a magazine article or a newspaper or a book or seeing text on a TV 
or anything that had the equivalent of this.

> >> Example:
> >> 	<p>One should <em>never execute <code>rm -rf /</code>
> >> 	in a UNIX shell <dem>because doing so would remove
> >> 	everything in the system</dem></em>.</p>
> >
> > Why not:
> > 
> >    <p>One should <strong>never execute <code>rm -rf /</code> in a UNIX 
> >    shell</strong> (because doing so would remove everything in the 
> >    system).</p>
> For plain text case I agree that using the parenthesis is enough. 
> However, if the content is something else but just plain text (an 
> <object> for example) an element is required to mark up the semantics.

This seems highly theoretical. Do you have a "real world" example in the 
wild showing this? (Ideally not something written by one of us.)

> However, I agree that default rendering for such markup is hard to 
> define. Any variation in text style can easily understood as positive 
> emphasis and a generic rendering of lower than normal importance 
> <object> is really hard to define.


> In the end, perhaps <small> should be used for de-emphasis of any 
> content other than plain text. Parenthesis can then be used for 
> de-emphasis of normal content.

<small> is for legalese or small print, not for anything to do with 
stress emphasis or importance.

On Tue, 15 Apr 2008, Tina Holmboe wrote:
> > 
> > So <small> means less important than normal (default) importance of 
> > plain text, if I've understood correctly when used outside <em> or
> No. This is a misunderstanding. The SMALL-element signify smaller text, 
> visually. It has /no/ other meaning, and since the past usage is 
> inconsistent, to say the least, we cannot give it any meaning.

This is incorrect, at least for HTML5.

> We /must/ stop thinking that the B-, I-, SMALL- or BIG-elements can be 
> given /any/ meaning. It's not a productive way forward; only another 
> step back.

I disagree. People already use <small>, <b>, and <i> in media-independent 
ways, so it makes sense to "pave the cowpath" and spec it.

> If we did that, then a huge amount of existing documents would suddenly 
> have meaning where no meaning was meant to exist.

These documents already have meaning, it's meaning we (as humans) give it 
even though the HTML4 spec doesn't justify it. I see nothing wrong with 
codifying this meaning.

> It'll break stuff in a bad way.

Can you give an example of such bad breakage?

On Tue, 15 Apr 2008, Jukka K. Korpela wrote:
> Existing documents may also use <small> to make, say, text smaller in a 
> context where saving space is crucial. Let's not frown up such usage too 
> much. Most importantly, let's not pretend it doesn't exist.

Tags like <em> are misused a lot, I don't really see a problem with 
changing the meaning of <b> from nothing to something where some usages 
are now "wrong". After all, the alternative (if we want to continue 
removing media-dependent features) is to remove the element altogether, 
and that makes _all_ uses "wrong". :-)

On Tue, 15 Apr 2008, Jukka K. Korpela wrote:
> The expression "small print" is often used figuratively to mean 'less 
> important' _or_ 'less noticeable'. If you don't mean either of them, 
> don't use the phrase.

It seems to have a pretty well defined meaning:


> Just say that <small> indicates that the textual content be presented in 
> a small font size.

That's a media-specific meaning, which makes it pointless given our goal 
of having a media-independent language.

> <h1>Main heading<br> <small>Subheading</small><h1>
> is just fine. Don't break it. Tell any special browsers to implement the 
> way other browsers do. Don't tell them to treat <small> as "small 
> print".

What's going to "break" given the new definition? It's not like we're 
asking for the default rendering to change.

Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'
Received on Wednesday, 17 December 2008 22:22:11 UTC

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