[whatwg] Feeedback on <dfn>, <abbr>, and other elements related to cross-references

Christoph Päper christoph.paeper at crissov.de
Tue Apr 22 03:12:26 PDT 2008

Ian Hickson:

> HTML5 had a complex mechanism for cross-references using <dfn>,  
> <abbr>,
> <i>, and so forth. I've removed it. It really didn't add much  
> compared to
> <a href=""> other than a whole lot of complexity, and there was very
> little demand for it really.

It was kinda cool, though.

> I've also made the title="" attribute on <abbr> required, and  
> updated a bunch of examples.

I hope you'll reconsider that decision.

> On Wed, 1 Nov 2006, Christoph Päper wrote:
>> First off I think the requirement for a |title| is too strict,  
>> because
>> there are time and space saving abbreviations everyone knows -- i.e.
>> either their expansion or their meaning -- that do not need an
>> expansion, e.g. "e.g." or "AIDS". Therefore the second sentence  
>> should
>> use 'may', not 'should'. Maybe there could be a mechanism using | 
>> link|
>> to external abbreviation glossaries, which may use |dl| instead of
>> |dfn|.
> Not sure which second sentence you mean, but for the record, you don't
> have to mark up all abbreviations. If they're known, don't bother.

If I want to reduce word-spacing for multi-dot abbreviations or  
change font-size or font-variant for acronyms, I'll have to mark up  
all of them. By the way, inside a run of text styled with "text- 
transform: uppercase" acronyms should get dots, which is impossible  
with current CSS, e.g. "IRAN THREATENS US" vs. "IRAN THREATENS U.S."  
from "<h1>Iran threatens <abbr class="acro">US</abbr></h1>".

> Well, you shouldn't use <abbr> without defining what the  
> abbreviation is.

That doesn't mean one should define it each and every time. It  
doesn't even mean one should to have to define at even just once / 
inline/, i.e. with a |title| attribute overload.

>>   <abbr>i. e.</abbr>
>>   <abbr title="id est">i. e.</abbr>
>>   <abbr title="that is">i. e.</abbr>
> The middle one is the right one, if you insist on using <abbr> for  
> this.

That's not a useful expansion, though. I could have given other  
examples than Latin abbreviations that are expanded to English  
phrases. It's common for instance in German to use international  
(i.e. English) acronyms with local letter pronunciation and expansion  
(e.g. "USA" -> /u:'es'a:/, not /ju'es'æj/ -> "Vereinigte Staaten von  
Amerika"). This includes less common ones.

> i.e. is not an abbreviation for "that is".

Perhaps, but "that is" is certainly an or the expansion of "i.e.".

>>   <link rel="abbr glossary" href="abbr.html">
>>   ...
>>   <abbr>i. e.</abbr>
>> abbr.html:
>>   <dl>
>>     <di><dt lang="la">i. e.</dt>
>>         <dd lang="la">id est</dd><dd lang="en">that is</dd></di>

Ignore the |di|.

> I don't really know what we're trying to solve here. The problem is  
> people
> not knowing what "i.e." means was solved long ago, using dictionaries.

This glossary basically is a (machine-readable) dictionary, because  
not all cases are as simple as "i.e." and it's inefficient to give  
the expansion inline each time, because it defeats the very purpose  
of abbreviations. Judging from the many misuses I've encountered, the  
meaning of "i.e." isn't all that clear to the many readers, who often  
confuse it with "e.g."; I've even seen these abbreviations being  
called "college-speak".

> The point of <abbr> is to expand the acronym, not to just mark up  
> what is
> an acryonym or abbreviation.

That's what you have made it. One could even argue whether the (sole)  
point of providing a |title| for an |abbr| is expansion.

> It's pretty obvious what is an acronym or abbreviation. :-)

I prefer uppercase acronyms and dotted abbreviations in roman-script  
text, but that convention is not used ubiquitiously. I don't even  
know about other writing systems.

When acronyms become independent words or names and change their  
writing accordingly (e.g. "scuba" or "Unicef") they don't need to be  
marked up any more and they don't need an expansion, except in an  
article about their history.

> On Thu, 2 Nov 2006, Matthew Paul Thomas wrote:
>> I use <abbr title="that is">i.e.</abbr> not just because that's  
>> what it
>> means, but because that's how it *should* be expanded if it needs  
>> to be
>> expanded, for example if it is being read aloud. (Expanding it as "id
>> est" would be pretentiously unreasonable.)
> Why wouldn't you just read it "eye-ee"?

That's not what you would say if reading aloud, is it? Spelling out  
abbreviations is only common for certain initialisms/acronyms.

> On Thu, 2 Nov 2006, James Graham wrote:
> (...)
> Right, speech synthesis has progressed enough that <abbr> isn't really
> going to be a huge help anyway;

For English perhaps.

> On Tue, 21 Aug 2007, Edward O'Connor wrote:
> (...)
> If I recall correctly, rel=glossary was dropped on the principle that
> hardly anybody used it, UAs didn't show it, and users didn't care.

Do you mean "hardly anybody" or "hardly anybody who provides a  
glossary"? Whenever I provide a glossary in hypertext, I'd want to  
associate it with the base text.

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