[whatwg] Presentational elements in Web Applications 1.0

James Graham jg307 at cam.ac.uk
Tue Jan 17 11:00:18 PST 2006

Eugene T.S. Wong wrote:
> On Sat, 14 Jan 2006 04:39:29 -0800, Matthew Paul Thomas 
> <mpt at myrealbox.com> wrote:
>> If authors -- or specifications -- try too hard to use a semantic 
>> element, or to force other people to use it, it will be misused so 
>> much that UAs can no longer trust the element to have any particular 
>> meaning, so it will become de facto presentational.
> Yes! That is what I was trying to say earlier. The best case examples 
> are inline strings which are typically italicized and bolded, but aren't 
> being emphasized. The problem with using <EM> and <STRONG> in those 
> situations is that these 2 elements have been stretched to include more 
> than just emphasis.

Accepting mpt's argument for a moment, what is the semantic equivalent 
of <center> or <big>? Even if we took the argument to your extreme and 
shadowed every semantic element with a meaningless element with the same 
default presentation in some reference graphical browser, there's no 
place for <center>. I suppose <big> is a bit like <h1> but surely we 
could just reintroduce <font> and be done with it? But you can't be 
suggesting that sites which employ the <font> tag are superior to ones 
that use CSS? I mean, they load slower, usually use <font> tags instead 
of headings, which reduces the readability and accessibility of the page 
and generally have a negative impact.

Whilst it is not implausible that a few select presentational elements 
may improve the overall correct use of meaningful elements on the web, 
history suggests that providing a raft of graphical presentational 
elements at the markup-language level encourages the use of poor-quality 

"It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people 
believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly 
that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise."

-- http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html

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