[whatwg] Re: Are the semantic inline elements really useful?

Henri Sivonen hsivonen at iki.fi
Wed Aug 31 08:02:46 PDT 2005

On Aug 31, 2005, at 00:04, Jasper Bryant-Greene wrote:

> Henri Sivonen wrote:
>> I think making the case for <cite> fails the explaining to mother 
>> test. Chances are that  there is something wrong with <cite> if I 
>> don't know how to explain to my mother why she should use it instead 
>> of the semantically empty italics. I cannot come up with any tangible 
>> advantages. And I have been able to make the case for paragraphs and 
>> headings.
> I can come up with several.

But you only mention two.

> Although you may think it unlikely now, you may like to change the 
> styling of your cited works at some point in the future.

It is a risk. If the risk actualizes, the bad thing that happens is 
that you have to do some work marking up the titles of the cited works 
differently. The probability that this particular risk actualizes is 
pretty low. Certainly lower than 1.

If you mitigate the effects of the risk actualizing by marking up the 
titles of the cited works differently right now, the probability that 
the bad thing (that you have to do some work marking up the titles of 
the cited works differently) happens is 1!

Therefore, mitigating the effects of the risk actualizing does not make 
sense assuming that the cost of using <cite> upfront is greater than 
the cost of italicizing (it typically is) and the cost does not rise a 
great deal if the task is postponed until the risk actualizes.

> You may also like to loop through <cite> elements in JavaScript and 
> link them to an external database of works, or

Why wouldn't you use straight links in the first place?

> generate a reference list.

The stuff you can scrape off <cite>s does not amount to the data 
required for a proper reference list.

> These are just examples of the huge advantages of using meaningful 
> semantic elements instead of presentational elements.

I wouldn't characterize the presented supposed advantages as "huge", 
but YMMV.

>> [snip]
>> Aside: Now that I looked at the source of the literature list, I 
>> noticed that some titles of works were marked up as <em>. my 
>> hypothesis is that after an upgrade Dreamweaver has started using 
>> <em> when pressing command-i. Sigh. See 
>> http://mpt.net.nz/archive/2004/05/02/b-and-i
> http://jasper.bryant-greene.name/2005/08/31/b-and-i-are-bad-mkay/

Quoting from there:
> Surely <span class="taxonomical"> has more semantics than <i>?

Nope. That is a common fallacy. Semantic markup (in order to be useful 
and not just a placebo) requires that the sender and recipient share 
the understanding of the semantics of the markup vocabulary. If you 
pull out English words out of your sleeve or stetson and use them in 
class attributes (or as element names in your home grown XML vocabulary 
for that matter), they are just meaningless opaque strings for a 
recipient with whom you do not have an a priori agreement about the 

<span class="taxonomical"> is no more semantic than <span 
class="taksonominen"> or <span class="tshhdhhtntshshssnhnt">. OTOH, UAs 
know a priori that <i> is supposed to be italicized.

Henri Sivonen
hsivonen at iki.fi

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