[whatwg] Deprecating <small> , <b> ?

Tab Atkins Jr. jackalmage at gmail.com
Wed Nov 26 15:38:09 PST 2008

On Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 4:48 PM, Calogero Alex Baldacchino
<alex.baldacchino at email.it> wrote:
> Tab Atkins Jr. ha scritto:
>>    Ah, the default style could be slightly or very different from the
>>    <small> one, i.e. the text could be surrounded by parenthesis or
>>    hyphens, despite of the font size (and the new elements could be
>>    designed such to accept just non-empty strings consisting of more
>>    than one non-spacing character).
>> We could, but is there any reason to have it do that?  Making the text
>> small is a good visual representation of the "small print" or "aside"
>> semantics.
> The concept was (or could be - let me modify it), the more we provide
> alternative visual representations of the "aside semantic element", the more
> likely a "moron designer" will stay far from it, since he could be confused
> about the style he's creating. As well, the rule "there is no default style
> for the element" could prevent authoring tools from just changing the name
> of a button used to style some text. But I know, all would fail because most
> popular browser would choose very similar rendering (or would they just
> follow rendering small fonts).
> Anyway, I wouldn't underestimate the latter characteristic (ok, that wasn't
> clear), that is establishing the use of the element is legal if it sorrunds
> a piece of text made up of one or more whole words (or at least one readable
> character) and if it's bounded by spacing or punctuation characters (that
> is, the 'semantic element' cannot be a part of a word). Of course, the
> misuse concern would just move from the messed-up word to a messed-up
> sentence, but at least, in this case, an assistive reader would be less
> likely fouled up and, without any need for luck, it could speak out
> something funny, yet understandable. Of course the same could be done
> redefining <b> and <small> parsing rules, but such would result in a break
> with a bounch of (possible) legacy uses, and if we had to break somehow with
> the past, why don't have a look for some more significant names? - Just to
> say, not hoping to persuade you :-P

We don't have to touch parsing at all to accomplish essentially this.
The issue you're worried about is getting crazy semantics applied to
individual letters.  Semantic parsers (which honestly the average
browser is *not*) can easily just ignore the semantic value of <b> or
<small> or <i> when they don't wrap a full word, assuming that the use
is either stylistic or too complex/subtle to easily capture.

>>    Here it is me not understanding. I think that any reason to offset
>>    some text from the surrounding one can be reduced to the different
>>    grade of 'importance' the author gives it, in the same meaning as
>>    Smylers used in his mails (that is, not the importance of the
>>    content, but the relevance it gets as attention focus - he made the
>>    example of the English "small print" idiom, and in another mail
>>    clarified that "It's less important in the sense that it isn't the
>>    point of what the author wants users to have conveyed to them; it's
>>    less important to the message. (Of course, to users any caveats in
>>    the small print may be very important indeed!)"). From this point of
>>    view, unless we aimed to avail of <b> as an intermediate grade of
>>    relevance between 'normal text' and 'em/strong' (but, aren't these
>>    enough to attract a reader's attention?), redefining its semantic
>>    might be redundant with lesser utility. (In my crazy mind, this
>>    applies to the headings too, since a 'good' heading focuses
>>    attention on the core subject of its following section, so have to
>>    be evidenced as an important slice of text). Furthermore, I meant
>>    that <strong> and <em> would have been a better choice than <b> in
>>    Smylers' examples because their *original semantics* is very close
>>    together with that of "a more relevant text/a text needing greater
>>    attention", while <b> *original semantics* is very different and
>>    needs to be redefined for this purpose (but we have still got
>>    possible alternatives to this).
>> Agree to disagree, I guess.  I don't find "We hope you'll find <b>Product
>> A</b> to be the best laundry detergent you've ever used!" to be denoting
>> emphasis or importance, really.
> I think 'Product A' is the core of the message, the thing some people are
> trying to sell you, the name you *must* remember when you want to by a
> laundry detergent, so those people become rich. The bold presentation aims
> to capture your attention and keep your eyes on it a bit longer; on a
> tv/radio spot the name of the product would be spoken out with some
> isolation, with at least a bit of emphasis, for the same reasons. It denotes
> importance meaning you need to pay a special attention to it in order to
> understand *what the author wants you to understand*. I think that the same
> semantics can be expressed by <strong>, since the importance of a piece of
> text is not (only) in its meaning, or in the message overall meaning, or in
> one's way to take it as important or not, but (also, or mainly) in the
> author's intention to mark it as different from the rest of the content, as
> a reading key, to drive your attention and as well your thoughts (ok, that's
> like saying that truth is a chimera, but such can be a crude truth :-P ).

If I was contrasting Product A with another item, I could perhaps
agree.  But we're not, so I don't.  ^_^  However, we're obviously
splitting hairs here.

>> <i> has more obvious non-emphatic uses, such as marking up
>> foreign-language  words,
>> linnean classifications, and such.
> Well, a foreign-language word, specially if correctly pronounced (by someone
> else), can be more or less hard to 'catch', so a bit of emphasis in its
> pronounce might help the listener to correctly distinguish sounds.

That's stretching quite a bit more than I think is appropriate.  Just
because I use a foreign phrase, does not mean that I'm emphasizing it.
 If I, in audible speech, would put a bit of inflection on the phrase,
that still doesn't mean I'm emphasizing it in anything like the way I
emphasize "I'm <em>not</em> going to the dance with you!".

In other words, at most I might slightly stylistically offset the
phrase from my surrounding spoken words, but I wouldn't be
*emphasizing* them.  So the <i> semantics are correct here.  ^_^

> After all, most of times bold and italicized texts (try and) reflect our way to
> pronounce sentences, with more or less isolation, more or less emphasis,
> quicker or slower, so changing their meaning, telling the listener that any
> part requires a greater or a lesser attention, is somehow 'special', with
> somehow different grades of 'speciality'. From this point of view, I think
> either <b>/<i> can be semantically the very same thing as <strong>/<em>, or
> their semantic should be redefined so to indicate a different (and lower)
> grade of 'speciality' on the same "speciality scale", but not as a different
> kind of 'speciality' (i.e., <b>-text stands out for some - opaque - reason
> which has nothing in common with <strong>-text).

You're overreaching your definition of "importance" and "emphasis".  I
don't think it's valuable to denote *everything* that is in some way
special as important or emphatic - you lose a sense of scale.  If you
wish to define the words as such, then sure, <b> and <i> are lesser
grades of importance and emphasis by definition.  By more conventional
definitions, though, they're not, and their stated semantics are fine.

>>    Anyway, I'm not against a possible redefinition of <b> and <small>
>>    semantics, but just aiming to deeply explore any alternative (such
>>    as introducing new elements) while the specifications are in their
>>    draft state. Just trying to give an alternative point of view with
>>    some valid argumentations, if I can find some, nothing more (and
>>    hope I'm not giving a different impression). Best regards.
>> No problem.  Just because I disagree doesn't mean we can't argue.  ^_^
>> ~TJ
> Ok, let's argue ^_^
> Now I'll throw in an even creazier idea. Let's maintain everything as is,
> and let's add two new elements the semantics of 'outstanding' and 'aside',
> which works as meta informations, i.e. they have no default style (or a
> default such as 'display:inline' and all the rest, but aureal properties, is
> inherited from the parent element) and ignore any style direclty set on
> them, but aureal styles, so they are ignored by any author not caring of
> them, but act as a shortcut for basic aureal behaviour for authors caring
> insteed, but not willing to create a whole aureal sheet, and can be helpful
> for an assistive software, regardless its support for aureal sheets, since
> their basic semantics is used as a hint on what to do despite any visual
> styling of the inner content (and of any inner <small>, <b>, <strong>, and
> so on).

I'm not an accessibility maven, so I have no idea whether this would
be useful or not.  I suspect, though, that having a special kind of
emphasis that you use *only* when you want to denote something aurally
but not visually is such an extreme niche case that it doesn't matter
(it sounds incoherent to me, actually).  If you know and care enough
about accessibility to *use* elements that will only have an effect on
aural browsers, you know and care enough about it to set up your CSS


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