[whatwg] the cite element

Erik Vorhes erik at textivism.com
Mon Jul 27 07:20:14 PDT 2009

On Sun, Jul 19, 2009 at 4:58 AM, Ian Hickson<ian at hixie.ch> wrote:
>> If <cite> is exclusively for titles, it shouldn't be called <cite>.
> Sure, but we're about 15 years too late for that.

Well, no: the as far as I have been able to determine, every HTML
specification (before HTML5) did not limit this element to titles.

> In practice, people haven't been confused between these two attributes as
> far as we can tell. People who use <cite> seem to use it for titles, and
> people who use cite="" seem to use it for URLs. (The latter is rare.)

See <http://www.four24.com/>; note near the top of the source:
<blockquote id="verse" cite="John 4:24">...

> A new element wouldn't work in legacy UAs, so it wouldn't be as compelling
> a solution. Also, <cite> is already being used for this purpose.

My preference would be for <cite> to retain the flexibility it has in
pre-HTML5 specifications, which would include referencing titles. If
backwards compatibility is that big a concern, why does HTML5 use
<legend> outside of <fieldset> elements? See:

And if the definition of new elements is such a concern, why introduce
*any* new elements? (Please forgive the snark.)

> What is the pressing need for an element for citations, which would
> require that we overload <cite> with two uses?

A title can be a citation, but not all citations are titles. What's
the pressing need for limiting <cite> only to titles?

>> I understand HTML5's attempts to provide semantic value to such elements
>> as <i>, <b>, and <small>. To at the same time remove semantic value at
>> the same time is completely asinine.
> If <cite>'s original meaning has value, that is true; what is its value?

I would assume that this would be obvious. <cite> both denotes and
connotes "citation."

>> > Note that HTML5 now has a more detailed way of marking up citations,
>> > using the Bibtex vocabulary. I think this removes the need for using
>> > the <cite> element in the manner you describe.
>> Since this is supposed to be the case, why shouldn't HTML5 just ditch
>> <cite> altogether? (Aside from "backward compatibility," which is beside
>> the point of the question.)
> Backwards compatibility (with legacy documents, which uses it to mean
> "title of work") is the main reason.

I'd beg to differ, regarding "legacy documents." See, for example the
automated citation generation at Wikipedia:

In addition, the comments at zeldman.com use <cite> to reference
authors of comments. While that specific example is younger than
HTML5, this is merely an example of a relatively common use-case for
<cite> that does not use it to signify "title of work."

>> There is no reason at all why it can't be defined as "citing whom".
> The main reason would be that there doesn't appear to be a useful purpose
> to doing that.

The above references suggest otherwise. There are plenty of instances
where one would want to cite people rather than just a "title of
work"; blog commenters are only the most obvious example.

> On Wed, 1 Jul 2009, Erik Vorhes wrote:
>> On Wed, Jul 1, 2009 at 11:49 AM, Kristof
>> Zelechovski<giecrilj at stegny.2a.pl> wrote:
>> > I can imagine two reasons the CITE element cannot be defined as "citing
>> > whom":
>> >  1. Existing tools may assume it contains a title.
>> Existing tools (which I would assume follow the HTML 4.01 spec)
> It appears this assumption is mistaken.

Really? Please provide evidence. Existing tools that treat <cite>
exclusively as "title of work" do so against every HTML specification
out there (i.e., HTML 4.01 and earlier).

>> While the HTML 4.01 specification is hardly perfect, I don't see the
>> value in limiting the semantic potential of the <cite> element in HTML5.
> As far as I can tell, increasing it from citations to titles of works is
> actually increasing its semantic potential, not limiting it.

Well, no. It's making it more exclusive. Defining <cit> as "title of
work" increases its specificity, but limits its semantic potential. As
I noted before, all titles are citations, but not all citations are
titles. By defining <cite> as an element that identifies a "citation"
you allow for "title of work" while not excluding other justifiable
uses of this element, e.g., "cited person."

> Indeed, there is a lot of misuse of the element -- as alternatives for
> <q>, <i>, <em>, and HTML5's meaning of <cite>, in particular.
> Expanding it to cover the meanings of <q>, <i>, and <em> doesn't seem as
> useful as expanding it just to cover works.

I believe you mean "limiting it just to cover works" here. By
requesting <cite> to retain a definition of "this is a citation," I am
not advocating that it be allowed to overlap <q>, <i>, or <em>. (I
realize you were responding to someone else's message, here. What I've
suggested allows <cite> to retain its semantic value.)

> I think it's clear that people want to use <cite> for things other than
> citations, and in fact do use it that way widely. If we're increasing it
> past just citations, then there seems to be clear value to using it to
> mark up titles; there doesn't seem to be much value in marking up titles
> and just any names (they're styled differently in practice), and marking
> up any title but only names of people who have been quoted is just weird.

Then why not allow <cite> to be defined as "citation" rather than a
subset of citation ("title of work")? Your reference to names and
titles, e.g., being "styled differently in practice" is a red herring.
Sure, names and titles are rarely styled the same, but not all titles
are styled the same way, either.

This doesn't just go for titles of books vs. titles of articles, the
former being italicized and the latter being enclosed in quotation
marks (in English, at least). Titles of books that are part of other
book titles are an additional instance of titles not being styled the
same in practice (e.g., "<cite>Chaucer and the <cite>Canterbury
Tales</cite>: A Short Introduction</cite>, in which "Canturbury Tales"
would not be italicized, according to most standard [English] citation

Again I respectfully submit that <cite> should be defined as an
element that "represents a citation (e.g., a person being cited or the
title of a work)" and the admonition against citing names be removed.
I would be more than happy to propose language that clarifies the
appropriate usage of <cite>, if my proposal is adopted.

Erik Vorhes

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