[whatwg] Problems with the definition of <cite>

Matthew Paul Thomas mpt at myrealbox.com
Sun Jan 21 03:09:09 PST 2007

On Jan 21, 2007, at 10:37 PM, Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis wrote:
> Matthew Paul Thomas wrote:
>> 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.
> What I really meant was, there is no reason for this not be a
> typographical form as peculiar to the web as blue underlined 
> hyperlinks.

Three reasons come to mind. First, unlike hyperlinking, citation is 
already widely practiced outside the Web. Hyperlinking could be blue 
and underlined because it was something new to most people (except 
those exposed to Windows 3.x's help system, but that also used 
underlining anyway). Citation is not something new, and there is no 
obvious reason for styling it differently on the Web.

Second, as I demonstrated earlier, there is no clear boundary to decide 
whether you are actually citing a particular person, or just mentioning 

And third, there is no benefit for the reader. It doesn't really make 
the text any easier to understand; and if the author's name is followed 
by a title that is also in italics, it may actually be harder to see 
which is the author and which is the work.

>>> 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?
> Seems to be only counsel. Judges get small caps. Why this formatting
> applies only when quoting them, I don't claim to understand.

Most likely because it's a transcript. :-) Similarly, American court 
documents use capitals for whoever's speaking. Hansard uses bold.

> ...
> Well, web authors' errors are understandable because the HTML 
> references they learn from are themselves misleading. Since there is 
> literally no form of semantic markup that HTML references are not 
> capable of misdescribing, the implication seems to be that semantic 
> markup is /never/ useful. And as most of HTML is semantic markup, HTML 
> doesn't sound very useful ...
> ...

The genius of HTML is that it gets authors to use many elements that 
are simultaneously presentational *and* semantic. Useful to readers 
*and* computers.

Matthew Paul Thomas

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