[whatwg] the cite element

Ian Hickson ian at hixie.ch
Fri Jun 5 00:53:47 PDT 2009

On Wed, 3 Jun 2009, Andrew W. Hagen wrote:
> The cite element should be slightly changed. Under this proposal, the 
> cite element should be used only for titles of works, but may be used 
> for other things that web authors may wish to cite. This conforms with 
> how the cite element is used in practice.
> In the current HTML 5 specification, the cite element can only represent 
> a title of a work. This has several negative implications. First, it 
> goes against what the word "cite" means. The common English usage of the 
> word "cite" includes making reference to non-titular authorities. For 
> example, a writer may cite Aristotle. See 
> http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cite
> Furthermore, the current restriction makes the cite element useless for 
> works which do not have a title. See a list of such works at 
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Untitled
> Trying to enforce a "titles-only" rule for the cite element is 
> impossible. The best that can be done is for small bands of advocates to 
> ringingly criticize any web author who breaks the rule. That is herding 
> cats. It is not as if browsers will refuse to render <cite 
> style="font-style: normal">Lincoln</cite> or that validators can 
> distinguish that from Gore Vidal's <cite>Lincoln</cite> (a historical 
> novel). The restrictive rule cannot be enforced.
> Finally, HTML 5 has a broad definition for some elements, such as kbd. 
> The kbd element can represent any form of user input, even if it is not 
> made with a keyboard. In current-work, one example is given of 
> <kbd><kbd>Shift</kbd>+<kbd>F3</kbd></kbd> for Shift+F3, even though in 
> that keyboard chord, the user would not actually input the "+" character 
> on the keyboard. It is so broadly defined that 
> <kbd>Shift</kbd>+<kbd>F3</kbd> would also be valid. Some elements, like 
> kbd, are very broad.
> Logical consistency cannot be perfectly maintained when specifying the 
> next version of HTML, but it should be a goal, and we ought to regret a 
> logical inconsistency between the cite element and elements like kbd. 
> One is narrow. The other is broad. Broadening the definition of cite 
> will not cause harm. It would only allow web authors to fully embrace 
> the cite element.
> This solution is workable. The cite element's default style is italics 
> in display mode, and this proposal would not change that. If a web 
> author writes: <cite>Aristotle</cite>, the web author can live with it 
> or re-style the cite element as desired.
> To conclude, slightly broadening the cite element would improve HTML.

I don't really understand what problem this is solving.

HTML4 actually defined <cite> more like what you describe above; we 
changed it to be a "title of work" element rather than a "citation" 
element because that's actually how people were using it.

I don't think it makes sense to use the <cite> element to refer to people, 
because typographically people aren't generally marked up anyway. I don't 
really see how you'd use it to refer to untitled works.

Thus, I don't really think it makes sense to make the change you propose.

Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'

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