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Much Ado About Q

An Argument for the Preservation & Strengthening of Q

PRECIS: Proposed, that the Q element use the "src" attribute to point to a target document, and provide a "for/id" binding between the Q element and the CITE element; alternately, the "cite" attribute of Q could be redefined to provide human-comprehensible bibliographic information. These changes would bring Q's attribute set in harmony with the use of the "src" element as a actionable target. Furthermore, BLOCKQUOTE would be deprecated in favor of a single element: either Q or QUOTE.



  1. reuse the SRC attribute in the same manner as it is used elsewhere in the HTML Technical Recommendation -- as a pointer to a specific target;
  2. retain the "lang" attribute


  1. add a for/id relationship between the Q element and the CITE element, which allows the author to bind individual quotes to a common source;
  2. provide a SRC attribute for CITE element, so that an author can point to a standardized external reference profile for the resource encased in the CITE element;
Perhaps Mencken's most familiar -- and most often misquoted and misattributed -- aphorism is:
<em class="air-quote">No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the average American.</em>  What Mencken actually wrote, is far more subtle, and yet even more cutting as social criticism: <Q src="" for="source1">No one in this world, so far as I know -- and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me -- has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great 
masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.</Q>
<!-- ... -->

<h2>Bibliographic References</h2>

<li><CITE id="source1" src="dubcore-s1.rdf">The Complete Works of H.L. Menken: Volume 3; Butz, Claude, editor; (New York, Library of American Letters: 1998), page 27</CITE></li>

  Note that, in the above example, i have used the EM element to demarcate the false quote, allowing me to use CSS to mark the misquote with quotation marks:

em.air-quote:before { content: "open-quote" }
em.air-quote:after { content: "close-quote" }

so as to distinguish the misquote from the quote, as the text contained in the class="air-quote" is not actually the text being quoted, but a common and widespread corruption of the actual quote. (Perhaps a better descriptor than air-quote is em-quote.)

This is how the print convention of encasing a word or idiomatic expression in quotes can -- and i believe SHOULD -- be handled: by using EM to mark the quoted word, and CSS to provide the emphasis -- (or, if you prefer, air-) quotes. Quotation marks are also employed to denote euphemism and slash or ironic intent, as in the headline:   Kane Found in Love Nest with "Dancer"

thus, the Q element makes a clear distinction that what's being dealt with is an actual quotation -- which makes the Q element both a logical AND a semantically meaningful element. as for the use of quotes for emphasis or to denote irony or sarcasm, since these are simply manifestations of emphasising a discrete string of text, they should properly be marked as EM, and styled so as to produce open and close quotation marks around the emphasized word or phrase.   The Q element is more than merely a textual marker which replaces the character entity (" or ") or actual quotation marks -- it is an element which can provide REAL context for the quoted text thanks to its attributes -- attributes that vastly contribute to the comprehensibility of related documents, entire web sites, hypertext or XML presentations, and online curricula.   The promise of hypertext has always been that it would revolutionize the way individuals -- especially individuals who cannot process printed material -- read documents. the Q element does this by allowing the author to provide extra information below the surface -- such as hyperlinks -- which the reader can choose to take advantage of, or ignore, at his or her choice.   The SRC attribute of the Q element will allow an author to specify a URI for the source of the quote without cluttering up the page -- enhancing both the readability of the document containing the Q element and the ease of comprehension of the document by placing it in exact context by hyperlinking directly to the location in the original document from which the quote was taken.

Moreover, quotation marks aren't always used strictly for quotations -- for example, a word or phrase may be encased in quotation marks to emphasize a certain word or phrase, as in:

Finally, everything was back to "normal".   Quotes are also employed to denote emphasis, euphemism, and/or ironic intent, as illuminated in the headline example given above.

Thus, the Q element makes clear that what's being dealt with is an actual quotation -- which makes the Q element both a logical and a semantically meaningful element.

An author might want to style the quoted text as italic or bold, or in different colors, by a font change, etc., instead of using quotation marks. Of course, this should and would be controlled by use of CSS, but styling alone -- especially if embedded in a SPAN element -- cannot convey to the user a vital item of important information: namely, that this segment of text encased in the Q element is an actual quotation; therefore, use of the Q element fits the needs and wants of both the author and the user: the author can style the contents of a Q in whatever way pleases him or fits in with the "look and feel" (there's another false quotation) of the resource, while the vital information that what is contained in the Q container it is an actual quotation is never lost.

Thus, screen reader and other assistive technology (AT) developers who produce applications which can access information from the DOM, must be urged to enable exposure of the Q element. Part of my insistence on using, parsing, and rendering Q is that i, as a screen reader user who would like the Q element to trigger a change in the reading voice's characteristics, such as a change in pitch or a change of voice (from male to female, male to deep voiced male, or whatever the user prefers), just as it provides expansions when it encounters the ABBR and slash or ACRONYM element, and how some screen-readers know to switch language libraries on the fly in response to the "lang" attrribute. But all of this is dependent upon use of the Q element, rather than guessing whether content contained in " is semantically a quote, or an ironic or emphatic use of quotes (the written equivalent of quote air quotes quote or my own habit of using quote unquote inline)   Overlapping user sets would benefit greatly from the ability to have one's user agent or one's assistive technology, generate a list of quotes in a given document, as it would be of interest to some users to have the URI of the quotation displayed in the list of quotes' status line, so that they are aware to where activating the quote (as opposed to just moving to it) will lead them, and so that the end user can make an informed judgement on the veracity and quality of resources quoted in the document, and thus assess the quality of the document, itself, as a reliable resource.

Why Deprecate BLOCKQUOTE?

  1. it is misused as presentational markup, although such use was explicitly deprecated in HTML 4.01 (consult the section below, headed "Excerpt from HTML 4.01: Rendering Quotations");
  2. it is</b> nothing more than a presentational model taken from print conventions, rather than semantic meaning. If Q was ubiquitously implemented, one could use styling rules to create a Q instance with the properties of a block quotation -- that is, as a paragraph indented at least 5em on both left and right margins;
  3. BLOCKQUOTE has no semantic meaning - it is merely one means of many of demarcating any quote an arbitrary number of sentences long.
  4. a quote is a quote is a quote - how it is demarcated as a quote is a presentational matter; what is important is that the material be logically and consistently marked up, so why have <b>two forms of QUOTE, when only one is needed?
  5. as a user of non-visual renderers, i would greatly appreciate my screen reader letting me know where a quote begins and where it ends, no matter how large or small the QUOTE, if i am to cite the quote, or go to the target at which it points, i have to know where it begins and ends, not whether it is indented and presented in a specific styling; this is part and parcel of my argument, outlined in my proposal for reforming the Q element: a user agent should recognize a quote when it encounters one, and apply aural or screen or print media selectors so that the end user knows where the quotation begins and where it ends; this is why i believe that emphatic quotes should be marked up using the EM element, and styled, if the author so desires, through the use of CSS-generated quotation marks
  6. BLOCKQUOTE, is - by definition - presentational in nature, and is used as a presentational, rather than a semantic element of document design / implementation. The print convention of seperating a quote of more than 3 sentences in a block of text, seperated from the main text by blank lines at top and bottom, with twice the whitespace on left and right margins, than the main text. There is nothing semantically sensible about preserving BLOCKQUOTE, as a quote is a quote is a quote - what is important to the renderer is where does the quote begin and where does the quote end, so that appropriate style rules can be applied, either by default, specified by the author or subject to a client side styling rule; thus, it is up to the author, using CSS, to define the presentational characteristics a quote will take, if that author wishes to replicate the print convention of a BLOCKQUOTE. The only thing that seperates a BLOCKQUOTE from a Q is how it is rendered by a user agent; despite its distinctive styling, a quote is still a quote, is still a quote, and canonical HTML/HTMLx should recognize that simple fact.
  7. Q itself MUST be reformed, with the attribute SRC replacing the current definition of the CITE attribute (a target URI from which the quote is taken), and the re-definition of the CITE attribute, to enable the author to point to a standard reference file, such as a Dublin Core docucment.

Dublin Core References:

Q as Both A Block and an Inline Element

Quotes will need to be nested within one another, for often one quotes a source which, in turn, quotes a third party; redefining the Q element as neither an inline nor block element, but as a "flow" element, should be equal to this task. Precedents include both the INS and DEL elements in HTML 4.01.

Although the Q element is defined in HTML Strict as an inline element, it will either need to be contained in the P element when used to indicate an extended quotation, or - optimally - the other way around, so that Q can be used inline, for brief quotations, as well as for extended quotations, such as selections from a journal or diary, citations from legal documents, or the use of a partial quote as part of contextualizing text which leads to an extended quote, as illustrated below.

Example of Q as Both an Inline and a Block Element With A for/id Binding Between Q and CITE

Rationale: Establishing a for/id binding between Q and CITE -- which would apply to Q (as well as BLOCKQUOTE, if that element is retained) -- is an important consideration, especially with the growth of online academics.

The following brief example illustrates not only the use of Q as an inline and a block-level element, as well as an illustration of the possibility of using a for/id association with the source contained in a CITE instance:

<Q class="inline" src="gw_farewell.html#gwfwp23s1" for="source15">
The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party</Q>, 
Washington warned his fellow Americans, <Q class="inline" 
src="gw_farewell.html#gwfwp23s1" for="source15">are sufficient to 
make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and 
restrain it.</Q> As Washington correctly forecast, the <em 
class="air-quote">spirit of party</em>:

<Q class="block" src="gw_farewell.html#"gwfwp24>
serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public 
administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies 
and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; 
foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to 
foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to 
the government itself through the channels of party passion.

<!-- skip to bibliography/references -->


<li><CITE type="bibliographic" id="source15" src="dcoreinfo-al.rdf"
>Washington, George. <em class="newspaper">A Farewell Message to My 
Fellow Citizens</em>, printed in <em class="italic">The Independent 
Chronicle</em> (Washington <abbr title="District of Columbia">DC</abbr>, 
September 26, 1796)</CITE>

Note that, in the example above, the src attribute has been added to the CITE element, so as to allow the author to point to a structured external reference resource (such as a [ Dublin Core] representation of the work being cited).

All of which, lends weight to the argument for a DIALOG element, for when one is writing a work of fiction, one isn't quoting one's characters -- it is they who are speaking.

Excerpt from HTML 4.01: Rendering Quotations

Rendering quotations

Visual user agents generally render BLOCKQUOTE as an indented block.

Visual user agents must ensure that the content of the Q element is rendered with delimiting quotation marks. Authors should not put quotation marks at the beginning and end of the content of a Q element.

User agents should render quotation marks in a language-sensitive manner (see the lang attribute). Many languages adopt different quotation styles for outer and inner (nested) quotations, which should be respected by user-agents.

The following example illustrates nested quotations with the Q element.</p>

John said, <Q lang="en-us">I saw Lucy at lunch, she told me
<Q lang="en-us">Mary wants you to get some ice cream on your 
way home.</Q> I think I will get some at Ben and Jerry's, on 
Gloucester Road.</Q>

Since the language of both quotations is American English, user agents should render them appropriately, for example with single quote marks around the inner quotation and double quote marks around the outer quotation:

  John said, "I saw Lucy at lunch, she told me 'Mary wants you
  to get some ice cream on your way home.' I think I will get some
  at Ben and Jerry's, on Gloucester Road."

Note. We recommend that style sheet implementations provide a mechanism for inserting quotation marks before and after a quotation delimited by BLOCKQUOTE in a manner appropriate to the current language context and the degree of nesting of quotations.

However, as some authors have used BLOCKQUOTE merely as a mechanism to indent text, in order to preserve the intention of the authors, user agents should 'not' insert quotation marks in the default style.

The usage of BLOCKQUOTE to indent text is deprecated in favor of style sheets.

Reasons for Retaining 2 Quote Elements: Q and BLOCKQUOTE


User Agents That Recognize the Q Element and it's "cite" attribute

  • Lynx 2.8.5, and higher, is capable of identifying and applying style changes to text encased in Q (using Lynx Style Sheets (.lss), the user can define the colors, so as to set, for example, a screen reader to switch voice characteristics when encountering background color X and foreground color Y, or enhancing the contrast between background and foreground colors, but one cannot access the "cite" attribute when defined for either Q or BLOCKQUOTE. Instances of the "cite" attribute, and the target to which it points, is not listed in the Lynx-generated list-of-links. I am currently attempting to ascertain the state of support for the "cite" attribute in later releases of Lynx.
  • There is a widget available for the Opera browser which enables listing of quotes and a means of accessing the target of the "cite" attribute, as defined in HTML 4.01 Strict.
  • FireVox, since it supports the CSS3-Speech Module, is capable of aurally demarcating the beginning and of quotes in a variety of manners.

Test Suites

Email Topic 1: Ensuring the Existence and Enhancing the Power the Q Element

May 2007

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June 2007

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Email Topic 2: An Argument for Deprecating BLOCKQUOTE

April 2007

May 2007

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June 2007

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See also