[whatwg] contenteditable, <em> and <strong>

Henri Sivonen hsivonen at iki.fi
Thu Jan 11 08:23:23 PST 2007

On Jan 11, 2007, at 10:42, fantasai wrote:

> Are you arguing that <i> should mean "emphasis" instead of "italics"?
> If so, I disagree...

Almost, except s/emphasis/different from normal paragraph content/ to  
dodge the discussion on what constitutes emphasis.

I am arguing that

The introduction of <em> and <strong> (circa 1993) has failed to  
achieve a semantic improvement over <i> and <b>, because prominent  
tools such as Dreamweaver, Tidy, IE and Opera as well as simplified  
well-intentioned advocacy treat <em> and <strong> merely as more  
fashionable alternatives to <i> and <b>. (I mean failure in terms of  
what meaning a markup consumer can extract from the real Web without  
a private agreement with the producer of a given Web page. I don't  
mean the ability of authors to write style sheets for their own markup.)

Therefore, in retrospect, it might have been more useful to  
generalize <i> and <b> back in 1993 instead of trying to launch  
alternatives. <i> could have been generalized as follows: "<i>  
denotes content that is different from normal paragraph content. For  
scripts that customarily use italics for this purpose, the default  
presentation on the visual media is italics when the ability to  
render text in italics is available. User agents may use different  
default presentations for making the content different from normal  
paragraph content for scripts that don't customarily use italics, on  
non-visual media or when italics are not available for display. For  
example, for Chinese and Japanese accent-like glyphs above or below  
the content could be used, for aural media a different tone of voice  
could be used and for tty display inverted colors could be used."

But that wasn't done back in 1993 and now were are stuck with two  
pairs of elements. I suggest defining the pairs as synonymous (giving  
in to practice made prevalent by tools biased towards bicameral  
scripts) and then generalizing them as outlined above. Nowadays with  
CSS, refining the default presentation is relatively easy when the  
default isn't exactly right. For private styling conventions, hand- 
coding authors would have double the style hooks without having to  
use class. (Specifically, I am not suggesting deprecating or  
obsoleting any of <i>, <b>, <em> and <strong>.)

Insisting on the difference of <i> and <em> is not without harm,  
because arguing about which one to use is not without opportunity  
cost. Also, I think the expected payoff (that mpt gave) from careful  
differentiation between the elements is not worth the trouble even if  
it was achievable through an education campaign.

P.S. To see how far we have come since 1993, check out this example  
in the IIIR draft:

         This text contains an <em>emphasized</em> word.
         <strong>Don't assume</strong> that it will be italic!
         It was made using the <CODE>EM</CODE> element. A citation is
         typically italic and has no formal necessary structure:
         <cite>Moby Dick</cite> is a book title.


Henri Sivonen
hsivonen at iki.fi

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