More on using CITE tag in HTML

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
July 8th, 2004 • 3:52 am

A while ago, I wrote about my confusion regarding the “proper” (i.e. standards-compliant) way to quote excerpts from books, titles, etc.

Well, things are not getting any better. Just yesterday, I read this post on the markdown-discuss mailing list, in which John Gruber says:

I also disagree with MPT about the `cite` tag. He gives the example
of italicizing a book title like this:

    Jared Diamond's <cite>Guns, germs, and steel</cite>

But the [W3C's example usage of `cite`] [1] contradicts this:

    As <CITE>Harry S. Truman</CITE> said,
    <Q lang="en-us">The buck stops here.</Q>
    More information can be found in <CITE>[ISO-0000]</CITE>.

According to the W3C, the `cite` tag can be used for citing
anything, including people, not just for the titles of publications
and works of art. And you certainly wouldn't want to italicize
Truman's name in the rendered output for the above markup.

Argh. And I thought I could use the cite tag as the “proper” way to italicize book titles…

The thing that seems to contradict W3C’s example usage, however, is that all the browsers I know and use seem to render cite by using italics. Yet, as John says, “you wouldn’t want to italicize Truman’s name in the rendered output for the above markup“. Does this mean that the W3C is right and all the browsers are wrong? Mmm…

I also cannot agree with John when he suggests, farther down in the same post, to use the following for titles:

<cite><em>The New York Times</em></cite>

While I agree with John that there are many “sub-classes” of emphasis, book titles certainly aren’t one of them. There’s just no way that citing a book title can be construed as being some kind of emphasis.

So basically I am still stuck. The markup value of the cite tag simply isn’t clear. I am probably going to end up using styles for this, in an upcoming revision of my CSS for Betalogue…

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