[whatwg] less than normal importance/emphasis (was: several messages about <i> and many related subjects)

Jukka K. Korpela jkorpela at cs.tut.fi
Tue Apr 15 02:07:53 PDT 2008

Tina Holmboe wrote:

>> So <small> means less important than normal (default) importance of
>> plain text, if I've understood correctly when used outside <em> or
>   No. This is a misunderstanding. The SMALL-element signify smaller
>   text, visually.

Or, to put it in other words, characters in smaller physical size.

> It has /no/ other meaning, and since the past usage
>   is inconsistent, to say the least, we cannot give it any meaning.

We know that <small> often, and probably most often, expresses 
de-emphasis of some kind. But it would still be inappropriate to 
redefine it with such semantics.

Existing documents may use <small> for emphasis. There is no law against 
it, the existing HTML specifications don't say we can't do that (they 
say remarkably little about <small>), and some cultures and habits and 
styles actually use font size reduction for emphasis.

Existing documents may also use <small> to make, say, text smaller in a 
context where saving space is crucial. Let's not frown up such usage too 
much. Most importantly, let's not pretend it doesn't exist.

>   We /must/ stop thinking that the B-, I-, SMALL- or BIG-elements can
>   be given /any/ meaning. It's not a productive way forward; only
>   another step back.

They have the meaning of expressing features of physical presentation. 
This is a true meaning, even if not very exact (how bold? really 
italics, or just slanted? how small? how big?). In an ideal markup 
language, such markup would exist in some form and it would only be used 
in contexts where the physical presentation is essential to the content 
(e.g., the document is a reproduction of a printed work or manuscript in 
a marked-up format and the text uses, say, italics for some essential 
purpose but it is disputable or maybe even unknown what the purpose is).

Jukka K. Korpela ("Yucca")

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