[whatwg] the cite element

Erik Vorhes erik at textivism.com
Wed Aug 12 21:07:05 PDT 2009

On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 6:21 PM, Ian Hickson<ian at hixie.ch> wrote:
> On Mon, 3 Aug 2009, Erik Vorhes wrote:
>> On Mon, Aug 3, 2009 at 6:29 AM, Ian Hickson <ian at hixie.ch> wrote:
>> > Not all titles are citations, actually. For example, I've heard of the
>> > /Pirates of Penzance/, but I'm not citing it, just mentioning it in
>> > passing.
>> No, that actually is a citation, whether you realize it or not. You are
>> making reference to a musical and are therefore citing it, even in
>> passing.
> Your definition of "citation" is far looser than my dictionary's ("a
> quotation from or reference to"). In fact your definition seems to be
> basically the same as HTML5's -- a title of a work. Unless you think that
> this should be valid use of <cite>:
>   <p>I picked up <cite>my favourite book</cite>, and put it next to
>   <cite>the painting I got from my aunt</cite>.</p>
> I don't think that those references to works should use <cite>. Doing so
> has zero benefit, as far as I can tell.

No, No, NO. That is not what I mean at all. You again deliberately
misrepresent what I am trying to convey, that <cite> should be for
citations, not for a subset of citations.

I agree (and never suggested otherwise): those are in no way explicit
citations, as there is nothing specific about them that would justify
calling them citations. <cite>Pirates of Penzance</cite>, however is
an explicit reference to that work and therefore a citation, not
"just" a title of the work.

> Why not? An orchestral arrangement is a work, and has a title -- the spec
> explicitly lists "score", "song", and "opera" as possible works, for
> instance.
> I've added "legal case report" to the list, to clarify that you can use
> <cite> to name such reports.

So the definition of <cite> in HTML5 should currently be "title of
work or something that could be construed as a title where one doesn't
exist in the explicit sense of 'title.' But not people's names, even
if they're the citation, because using <cite> for citations is silly."

>> Unless by "title of work" you mean "standard citation for an item,
>> usually its title"; but then <cite> really means what it is defined as
>> in the HTML 4.01 specification.
> Unless you have a very loose definition of "citation", or unless you
> consider a person to be a possible "source", <cite> in HTML5 is a strict
> superset of HTML4's definition.
> For example, the following is valid HTML5 but wouldn't be valid HTML4,
> since it's not a citation or reference to another source, but merely
> something mentioned in passing:
>   <p>Today, as I was moving my copy of <cite>Dreamer's Void</cite>, I
>   hurt my back.</p>

That's perfectly fine in HTML4. It's a citation, as I have explained
previously, and there's nothing in the HTML4 spec that prohibits that
use. Why are you misrepresenting the HTML4 spec?

>> Besides, there's already <tt>, which could be used to identify "title
>> text" or something like that.
> It has the wrong default styles.

So does <cite>, in many contexts even if we're relying on the
definition in HTML5 as it stands.

> <cite> is also used to mark up titles that aren't citations, as shown by
> Philip's data.

Again. Those *are* citations.

>> There's no reason to limit it to a subset of citation (more below).
> I honestly don't understand how HTML5 is a subset of HTML4 here, unless
> you mean people's names, which as far as I can tell aren't commonly used
> with <cite>, and for which there is no benefit to using <cite>.

I believe they are more commonly used than you are willing to admit.

> Wikipedia's output is not an argument for consuming <cite>. In fact, what
> they're doing is an argument against keeping <cite> for that purpose: they
> are explicitly overriding the only behaviour <cite> gives them (italics)
> and then going out of their way to reintroduce that effect on a <span>! If
> that's not an argument for changing the meaning of <cite> to something
> more convenient, I don't know what is.

Yes, Wikipedia's overall markup is problematic, but you seemed to be
needing some actual evidence that <cite> is used for more than simply
"title of work" other than blog commenter names (which for some
inexplicable reason you have rejected out-of-hand as evidence that
<cite> is used for people's names and other non-title citations).

>> Any reference to a title of a work is by definition a citation.
>> Therefore you are limiting <cite> to a subset of citation.
> I disagree with your definition of "citation".

I'm sorry the New Oxford American Dictionary isn't good enough for you. I quote:

- a quotation from or reference to a book, paper, or author, esp. in a
scholarly work
- a mention of a praiseworthy act or achievement in an official
report, esp. that of a member of the armed forces in wartime
- a note accompanying an award, describing the reasons for it
- [in Law] a reference to a former tried case, used as guidance in the
trying of comparable cases or in support of an argument

> Unless you can demonstrate that there is a concrete benefit to doing what
> you describe, I do not think it is a good idea. There are concrete
> benefits to the definition currently in HTML5, namely it provides a good
> first approximation of common typographic effects at a very low cost.

There is also at least one concrete detriment, in that you are
deliberately limiting the "appropriate" use of an element that you
readily admit is nothing more than a styling hook.

> As noted above, I believe that this is an expansion as well (I don't think
> HTML4's use of "source" was meant to include people). But in any case,
> what you describe here isn't a problem.

Clearly, then, the HTML4 authors didn't understand <cite> when they
provided an example that explicitly used the element in junction with
the citation of a name.

> What is the _problem_ solved by allowing names to be marked up in the same
> manner as titles?

Aside from relying on default styles that many user-agents provide,
what's the _problem_ solved by disallowing names from being cited,
especially when not all titles are to be italicized in the first

>> That's what CSS is for.
> CSS is optional. We need the media-independent layer to make sure that we
> get a reasonable rendering even without CSS.

Except that there are many instances when the "default" rendering of
<cite> is inappropriate (and by extension unreasonable) even for
titles of works.

>> Okay, but it won't make any difference to authors like myself who will
>> continue to use <cite> to mark up names.
>> We can do this either by applying a Kenobian interpretation of the spec
>> (e.g. a person is the work of their parents/peers/society and a person's
>> name is therefore a "title of work")
> The spec explicitly says people's names aren't titles of works.

Which won't stop me (and I imagine many others) from using <cite>
appropriately--and contrary to what the specification currently

>> Authors use the <cite> element to mark up names.
> Only a small minority do. Certainly not enough to make this a language
> feature.

But in HTML4 it *is* an allowable use of <cite>. I don't think you
have any reasonable justification as to why it is appropriate for you
to take this language feature away.

>> It is often the most semantically appropriate element for marking up a
>> name
> There is no need to mark up a name at all.

I don't understand.

>> I don't think it makes sense to ignore the existing behaviour of
>> authors.
> Existing behaviour of authors is not to mark up names with <cite>.

Except for the authors that do mark up names with <cite>

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