[whatwg] The m element [<i> and <b>]

Øistein E. Andersen html5 at xn--istein-9xa.com
Fri Mar 2 17:20:04 PST 2007

(I apologise in advance for prolonging this already quite long thread,
but I cannot remember to have seen the following points being made yet.)

The specification correctly points out that <i> and <b> elements may be
restyled and that the text they contain will thus not necessarily be rendered
in italics or bold, respectively. However, no example of why this might be wanted
is given.

A traditional typographical rule says that italics in italics should be printed in 
roman (i.e., non-italic type). An example of this would be a caption in italics
containing a foreign expression (based on an example in the specification):

> .caption {font-style: italic;}
> .caption i {font-style: normal;}
> <p class=caption>There is a certain <i lang="fr">je ne sais quoi</i> in the air.

Interestingly, <i> is here used to mark up the part of the text that shall  n o t
be in italics. This could perhaps be used as an argument against the point of
view that <i> is merely presentational. More to the point, the obvious alternative
is clearly less elegant:

> <i>There is a certain </i>je ne sais quoi<i> in the air.</i>

(The spacing might give an idea of what is going on, but this is clearly too subtle.)

Règles typographiques* presents an interesting exception to the rule: Musical
notes (ut/do, ré, mi, &c.) are to be written in italics in roman and in roman within
italics,  b u t  they shall not be distinguished within the title of a work of art
requiring italics, which gives ‘une étude en <i>fa</i> dièse’, but ‘<i>Toccata
et fugue en ré mineur</i>’. (Marking up ‘ré’ in this case would of course be
possible, but hardly useful.)

In a dictionary from 1924, a similar rule has been applied for bold. Namely,
the headwords are printed in bold, and the stress is indicated using non-bold
vowels. (Almost anecdotically, the rule applied could be said to be that italics in
bold should be printed in roman, for stress is otherwise indicated using italic vowels
in roman [non-italic, non-bold].) An example entry could be marked up as follows:

> dt {font-weight: bold;}
> dt b {font-weight: normal;}
> <dl>
>     <dt>Typ<b>o</b>graphy
>     <dd>the style, size and arrangement of the letters in a piece of printing
> </dl>

<b> might not be the best choice in this particular case, but I think the point
remains when <b> is replaced by <i> (cf. previous parenthetical remark) or <em>:
Logical emphasis is actually conveyed by  d e c r e a s i n g  the typographical
emphasis, a technique that is arguably more effective than overemphasis. 

Again, the obvious alternative <b>Typ</b>o<b>graphy</b> does not seem
quite right.

Øistein E. Andersen

*) Full title: Lexique des règles typographiques en usage à l’Imprimerie nationale

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