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Many people frown upon the physical attributes in HTML and often proselytize the virtues of stylistic tags for the markups, occasionally with the threat of:
Use of the (physical) tag to create text that (whatever it does) is being phased out; you should use the (symbolic) tag instead.
Horse pucky!

While some of these tags are deprecated in the HTML 4.0 spec (the <u> and the <strike> or <s> tags), the physical markup tags for font style are still alive and kicking.

Deprecated?
Yep - though it is best to explain this by looking at the glossary for the spec to see exactly what they mean:

A deprecated element or attribute is one that has been outdated by newer constructs. Deprecated elements are defined in the reference manual in appropriate locations, but are clearly marked as deprecated. Deprecated elements may become obsolete in future versions of HTML.

User agents should continue to support deprecated elements for reasons of backward compatibility.

Definitions of elements and attributes clearly indicate which are deprecated.

This specification includes examples that illustrate how to avoid using deprecated elements. In most cases these depend on user agent support for style sheets. In general, authors should use style sheets to achieve stylistic and formatting effects rather than HTML presentational attributes. HTML presentational attributes have been deprecated when style sheet alternatives exist (see, for example, CSS1).

(highlighted text done by me)

There are several things to realize about this:

  • First off, the <b> and <i> tags are not deprecated or even considered for phasing out. Thats just wrong.
  • Along with <b> and <i>, and the deprecated <u> and the <strike> or <s> tags, other styles that are in the same class of markups include:
    • <tt> (used extensively in this writeup)
    • <big>
    • <small>
    Nothing has been said about them in discouraging the use.

Ultimately, the suggestion from W3C is to use style-sheets. Unfortunately, this isn't always an option (such as here on Everything2). As users here, it is impossible (and likely not in our best interest either: style-sheets can even give headaches to experienced html types, and cause many novices to throw up their hands in disgust) for the average user to make a new class for the <span> tag (which isn't supported on E2).

Until there is a way to specify the style sheet so that users can specify <span class="boatname">USS Enterprise</span> rather than <i>USS Enterprise</i>, don't try to force people to use some logical markup that isn't applicable to the style of the subject.

The key thing to realize here is that <i> refers to italic text style while <em> refers to emphasis of the text. Not all instances of italic are emphasis.

  • Citation of a book or other publication:
    Borg, Jim. Tigers of the Sea: Hawaii's Deadly Sharks. Honolulu: Mutual, 1993.
  • Movie Titles:
    Are you going to go see Attack of the Clones?
  • Foreign languages in the text that are not commonly accepted in English:
    A résumé is often called a CV, short for curriculum vitae.

For publications (and films) the <cite> tag should be used - it exists and is well supported. The important thing to realize is that if there is no style sheet entry or logical style that matches the reason for the italics (or bold) then there is nothing wrong with using the <i> or <b> tags.


For more information see:
http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/present/graphics.html#h-15.2

A table of all HTML 4 elements can be seen at:
http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/index/elements.html

For information on a style guide regarding the use of italics: http://www.computer.org/author/style/ghi.htm#I

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