[whatwg] the cite element

Erik Vorhes erik at textivism.com
Thu Jun 4 14:11:57 PDT 2009

On Thu, Jun 4, 2009 at 12:53 PM, Kristof Zelechovski
<giecrilj at stegny.2a.pl> wrote:
> The level of surprise of an article cited as a book is far smaller than a
> real author looking like a fictitious person, as in the default rendering of
>        <CITE >Aristotle</CITE > said.

How does this make Aristotle look like a fictitious person? I'm afraid
I don't follow how <cite> suggests this.

> Not everybody is an expert in scholarly style guides but most readers feel
> the difference between direct speech and indirect speech.

This isn't about expertise in scholarly style guides, it's about the
silliness of limiting what <cite> encompasses in the specification
merely because the typical default text rendering is italic. Such an
approach falls into the trap of using HTML elements based on their
presentation, not their semantics. My reference to scholarly style
guides was to point out that in various circles that have thought
about it, there is some consensus that not all titles are italicized.
It follows that if <cite> is limited to titles because by default it
italicizes titles, you run into a logical trap for having relied on
the presentation of <cite> (possibly to the detriment of its
semantics): How do you cite a title that requires non-italic
characters if italicization is integral to the <cite> element? The
obvious answer is to use CSS to remove the italics, but then italics
are no longer an essential part of the <cite> element, which leads me
to wonder why it would need to be limited to titles in the first
place. (I should also point out that Lynx doesn't italicize <cite> by
default; nor do screenreaders, as far as I can tell.)

Moreover, at no point did I mention anything about direct and indirect
speech. That's another subject entirely. Perhaps the <cite> element
has something to do with these modes of discourse in relation to using
<q>, <blockquote>, and in-text paraphrase, but again my main point of
contention is that <cite> is the most appropriate element for a
variety of semantic uses beyond wrapping a title in an element.

> You can, of course, say
>        It was not <EM >Plato</EM >, it was <EM >Aristotle</EM >!
> but this kind of emphasis is rarely needed and the interpretation of the
> rendering is obvious from the context in this case.

I don't see how the <cite> element is relevant to your example. You're
emphasizing their names. And if this is indeed part of an argument
about which philosopher said that famous quote, there's nothing that
prevents you from wrapping multiple elements around the correct name.
So, in your example you could write <em><cite>Aristotle</cite></em>.

> I contend that citing articles from periodicals is not well supported,
> starting with the problem of lack of support in the NID urn:ISSN.

That's beyond the scope of this discussion, but there's nothing that
says those titles can't be wrapped in <cite>. (The rest is probably
better left to the heated microformats/RFDa/microdata debates. :)

> formal citations are not inserted into running text, which is what the CITE
> element in principle is for.  They are set aside as footnotes or endnotes in
> order to keep the text readable.  There is nothing wrong with the default
> rendering of the article title in running text where symbolic bibliography
> references are not used, e.g. because the text is for the average reader.

I'm not talking about bibliographic information or a list of works
cited, although marking them up properly is relevant to this
discussion. And I should point out that the MLA, APA, AP, and Chicago
style guides aren't exclusively about bibliography. They also
recommend how best to discuss articles, books, and other texts within
the context of your writing itself. I find it hard to believe that
you've never run across an article (or other non-italicized) title in
the context of regular text. For example:

Say, have you read "Palm Pre, Elegant Contender," David Pogue's new
review in the New York Times?

I defy you to find anyone who would expect the article title (in
quotes) to be italicized in the above sentence, but there are (I
believe) three places where <cite> could be used justifiably.

Again, my point is that one shouldn't rely on default HTML rendering
to justify certain uses of an element. To do so can diminish the
semantics of the element in discussion and in cases like <cite>
actually makes the too-limited scope even narrower. (To reiterate, if
italics are an essential component of <cite>, and <cite> is used
exclusively to mark up titles, you can't appropriately use <cite> with
every title, which cripples even that limited use.)


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