Rob Rothenburg <email@example.com>
HTML markup for "special words" (acronyms and abreviations, proper names-- people and geographical locations, definitions, 'foreign' words) has been ambiguously addressed at best. In September '97 I posted a suggestion to the list  recommending a possible solution using the LINK element to reference a "dictionary file" that in HTML, that consisted of a definition list for defined terms.
I came across RFC 2229, a "Dictionary Server Protocol", which may provide an even better solution. The INS, DEL, Q and BLOCKQUOTE elements in HTML 4.0 have the CITE attribute for referring to a URL as a citation.
Something similar could be done with the ABBR, ACRONYM and DFN  elements where the citation refers to a dictionary server or a document that contains the definition. This would supercede the previous suggestions, and would be work well with older browsers and agents which do not recognize citation attributes.
<ACRONYM TITLE="Hypertext Markup Language" CITE="file:///E%7C/Docs/html4/html40.txt">HTML</ACRONYM> <DFN CITE="dict://dict.org/m:shortcake">shortcake</DFN>
An optional reference to a dictionary or glossary (using the LINK element) would also be useful.
How a browser (user agent) handles these citations is not specified. An agent may display citations as hyperlinks, or provide a separate menu of definitions. (An agent might even be configured to look in a default dictionary server for definitions of uncited terms, or to override citations in a document should the links be invalid or the server unavailable.)
Multiple citations for a term in a document should be discouraged, but not forbidden since there are times when an acronym or term may have multiple meanings.
Pronunciation (aural style sheets) and other language-specific issues for abbreviations and acronyms are not addressed here.
The document type returned by dictionary servers is also not addressed here (nor is it addressed in  RFC 2229) although presumably in the future a "definition markup language" will emerge. Note that that RFC 2229 is not an official standard.
 "A less painful way of adding dictionaries to HTML" http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-html/1997Sep/0394.html
 "RFC 2229 A Dictionary Server Protocol" ftp://ftp.isi.edu/in-notes/rfc2229.txt
 The DFN element represents the "defining instance of the enclosed term" (according to Sec. 9.2.1 of the HTML 4.0 specs) implying the first use of a term in the context of a definition.
 What is missing is an element for marking up "proper names" (names of people, geographic locations, institutions, or even scientific names such as genus/species) and other special terms ("keywords" that may not be appropriate for including in the META elements but useful for users of a collection of documents).
DFN could cover some of these, and certainly others could be used as standard links (the A element). Whether one would like to mark these attributes for user agents (such as search engines, or authoring tools which could be used to build an index) is a separate issue not covered in the message.
Robert Rothenburg Walking-Owl
PO Box 1327
Stony Brook, New York, 11790