[whatwg] Using <em> for Meta-Content

Smylers Smylers at stripey.com
Thu Jun 18 04:52:12 PDT 2009

HTML 5 currently defines <em> as being for "stress emphasis of its
contents", noting that:

  The placement of emphasis changes the meaning of the sentence.  The
  element thus forms an integral part of the content.

    -- http://www.whatwg.org/html5#the-em-element

I'm not sure this definition is wide enough to encompass the use that
HTML 5 itself puts <em> to, using it for the "This section is
non-normative" bits at the start of sections, such as:


The italics there don't seem to be indicating stress (and the sentence
doesn't warrant an exclamation mark at the end), more that it's
meta-content -- information about the section.

Of current HTML 5 defintions that seems closest to one of the purposes
of <i>: "an alternate voice or mood, or otherwise offset from the normal


I suggest that either the definition of <em> is broadened to include
this sense, or these normativity designators are instead marked up with
something like <i class=normativity> or <i class=other>.

This meta-content use seems similar to an article by a guest author
being prefaced by an italicized paragraph from a regular author
introducing the guest.  Or editoral comments inserted into somebody
else's work, which are often in square brackets and italics as well as
having "- Ed" at the end.  Mainly it's just indicating some kind of
separation from the main text.

(<strong> isn't quite right for these uses either: while the sentence is
important, it's hardly the key information in that section.  If reading
the spec out loud to somebody "This section is non-normative" is the
kind of thing I'd say very quickly, as boilerplate to be got out of the
way of the interesting content to follow (almost like legalese on radio
adverts).  That suggests the <small> element, but that isn't quite right
either: whether a section is normative is materially relevant to the
content, not just a legal technicality.)


More information about the whatwg mailing list