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I and B vs EM and STRONG

From: Al Gilman <asgilman@access.digex.net>
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 10:45:58 -0500 (EST)
Message-Id: <199811171545.KAA02453@access2.digex.net>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

> From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn-hwg@idyllmtn.com>
> Subject: Re: Using Netscape Composer to produce clean code
> At 03:41 p.m. 11/16/98 -0500, Henrik Frystyk Nielsen wrote:
> >That it shouldn't mess with the tags in one thing (which is why I don't use
> >it) - but could you please explain why <I> and <B> are vastly inferior to
> ><EM> and <STRONG>?
> I and B are presentational -- they assume a certain presentation which
> doesn't have meaning in all user agents.  In other words, if you're
> reading something aloud, you can't put it in italics or bold.
> EM and STRONG, on the other hand, are broader.  They mean "show this
> emphasized" or "show this strongly emphasized" and thus leave it up
> to the browser to determine how it should say something.  I can
> emphasize words when speaking out loud, but I can't _italicize_
> words while speaking out loud.
> The "preferred way" to do these kinds of things is to use EM
> and STRONG, and if you need italics or bold, use styles for
> visual browsers.

I understand that that is the stated preference of the community
as reflected in the guidelines draft.

I still don't understand how it makes any practical difference.

The general public has no idea of when to use EM other than "use
EM in place of I for italics."  And similarly for STRONG vs BOLD.
EM and STRONG are euphemisms.  Their only advantage lies in the
absence of the appearance of discrimination.  There is
insufficient practical difference to merit our attention.

It is both easy and appropriate for the rendering agent to
interpret I and B as EM and STRONG specialized by default style
indications for visual presentation.  I have yet to hear of an
author who put I tags in an HTML document complaining that their
meaning had been abused when ACSS style rules were applied that
lump EM and I into one category.

What really drove this home for me was learning just a little
about Braille usage.  Braille literature has different rules for
italics from those that print literature follows.

To transcribe to idiomatic Braille one needs to know not just I
or EM but why the print version would have been italicized.  One
needs to know the rationale or justification for the italics.
Converting I to EM does not provide this information.  The added
rationale information can be marked with a CLASS on either an EM
or I just the same.

Making an issue of EM vs. I diverts energy from the search for
the real problem: how can we entice authors to leave marks in
their documents which explain _why_ they italicized this
particular text?  Perhaps then we could transliterate it into
graceful presentation in alternate media.  EM is no better than I
in that pursuit.  It is simply a step sideways.

Received on Tuesday, 17 November 1998 10:44:57 UTC

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