[whatwg] The m element [em and strong]

Øistein E. Andersen html5 at xn--istein-9xa.com
Thu Feb 8 04:35:12 PST 2007

On 8 Feb 2007, at 9:42AM, Anne van Kesteren wrote:
> "importance" is differen[t] from "emphasis".

This is indeed what the current version of the specification says, but I honestly
think this distinction is too artificial to work in practice.

HTML4 clearly defines <em> and <strong> as more or less (of) the same thing:
> EM:
>     Indicates emphasis.
>    Indicates stronger emphasis.
> EM and STRONG are used to indicate emphasis.

More importantly, emphasis is customarily used to convey importance, which implies
that the two concepts cannot be dissociated in HTML5 without causing confusion.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines one of the meanings of emphasis thus:
> Stress of voice laid on a word or phrase to indicate that it implies something
> more than, or different from, what it normally expresses, or simply to mark
> its importance.

The Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emphasis_(typography)
is also relevant to the more general em/strong/m/b/i discussion, as it clearly
defines any change in font style as a kind of emphasis.

Perhaps the most logical solution would be to keep only <em> as a general
emphasis element and allow i/b/u and possibly others to be used at the author's
discretion, but with the same semantics as <em>.

The semasiologists amongst you are unlikely to approve of such a flagrant lack of
inherent meaning, but insisting on too fine-grained distinctions, influenced by
more or less arbitrary conventions in modern Western typography, is not helpful either.

Øistein E. Andersen

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