[whatwg] Problems with the definition of <cite>

Matthew Paul Thomas mpt at myrealbox.com
Sat Jan 20 18:30:58 PST 2007

On Jan 17, 2007, at 12:46 AM, Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis wrote:
> Matthew Paul Thomas wrote:
> ...
>>      This is the correct way to do it:
>>          <p><q>This is correct!</q>, said <cite>Ian</cite>.</p>
>> Despite this being consistent with the example given in the HTML 4
>> specification, it is not compatible with the Web (except for the tiny
>> part of it found on diveintomark.org and its imitators). All noticable
>> graphical browsers default to cite {font-style: italic}, and it is
>> inappropriate to italicize someone's name just because you're quoting
>> them.
> Says who?

I could have said "in my 24 years of reading in a wide variety of 
fields I have never, not once, come across a document that 
intentionally used italics to indicate it was quoting someone", but I 
was trying to be concise.

> There are even situations where this would be appropriate in
> modern English, which seems to be your frame of reference here. For
> example, when cited as the source of a quotation from a transcript in
> British legal writing: "Counsel's name should appear in upper-and
> lower-case italics" (Oxford Guide to Style (ISBN 0-19-869175-0), 423).

If counsel themselves quotes someone else, does the transcript 
italicize the name of that someone else?

I think what you're describing is a transcript, which should use 
<dialog> (wherein you can style <dt> to be italic), not <cite>.

>> Therefore, that's not what Web authors
> Notorious for their understandable errors.

Which is relevant, because semantic markup is useful to the extent that 
Web authors don't make errors using it.

>> -- or even HTML reference authors 
> Justly notorious for promoting such mistakes through misinformation.


>> -- understand <cite> to be for.
>> <http://htmlhelp.com/reference/html40/phrase/cite.html>
>> <http://webdesign.about.com/od/htmltags/p/bltags_cite.htm>
>> <http://urlx.org/microsoft.com/eec70>
> Sorry, I can't take MSDN seriously. They don't even correct clear 
> errors when informed about them (and I /have/ told them about this 
> one):
> http://forums.microsoft.com/MSDN/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=745161&SiteID=1

Good for you, but did you really expect Microsoft to make changes that 
reflect the behavior of neither their own browser nor (in the case of 
<cite>) anyone else's?

> If MSDN is supposed to be the measure for HTML5, we might as well pack
> it in, since they'll misrepresent whatever the spec says anyhow. Also, 
> I think you're being unfair to htmlhelp.com, who say:
>> The CITE element is used to markup citations, such as titles of
>> magazines or newspapers, ship names, references to other sources, and
>> quotation attributions. Visual browsers typically render CITE as
>> italic text, but authors can suggest a rendering using style sheets.
> This description is /entirely/ compatible with the usage under
> discussion ("quotation attributions").

Quotable ships? Whatever next?

> ...
>> I think a more compatible and visually obvious (if less semantically
>> obvious) definition of <cite> is marking up the name of a work: a 
>> book, film, exhibition, game, etc.
> You're arguing for changing the semantic meaning of an HTML element
> based on a set of modern English typographic conventions about the
> formatting of citations. This line of argument is self-contradictory
> because
> (1) Modern English typographic conventions are crystal clear that the
> entire reference is the citation, /not/ just or even especially the
> italicized part.

Yes, it would be more precise if the element was called <work> -- but 
also more ambiguous, and much less backward-compatible.

> (2) Modern English typographic conventions do not always use italics 
> for the name of a work. For example, by the Oxford Guide to Style 
> 0-19-869175-0), the titles of articles, orations, unpublished works,
> treaties, parliamentary statutes (and in British legal writing, even US
> statutes), European secondary legislation, books of the Bible
> and /suwar/ of the Koran, and rabbinical works that have become
> nicknames (on this, see p. 541) are not italicized, and those of poems
> frequently are not.

Yep. And if that issue, and the others you listed, prevent the 
redefinition, I think the next best solution would be to drop <cite> 
entirely. If a semantic element is needed for citations, introduce a 
<citation> element that legacy browsers won't italicize.

Matthew Paul Thomas

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