[Pmwiki-users] the descriptions of emphasis

Patrick R. Michaud pmichaud
Thu Dec 2 08:46:50 CST 2004

On Thu, Dec 02, 2004 at 08:31:12AM -0500, Neil Herber wrote:
> With that principle in mind, I would suggest that the three modes of text 
> emphasis should be renamed, and the HTML that PmWiki emits should be 
> changed. Anybody who has used a word processor knows about italics and 
> bold, but the concept of "emphasis" is almost pure HTML.

I definitely see where you're coming from (and in many senses I agree),
but I think I'm going to leave things the way they are now for a variety
of reasons.  But first, some historical and philosophical thoughts...

I think the concept of emphasis is identified with HTML simply because 
word processors were first designed with features called "italic" and
"bold" instead of "emphasized text" and "stronger emphasis".  Indeed,
one of the big problems in getting well-structured documents (a la XML)
built today is that traditional word processor designs have led authors
to become accustomed to thinking of documents in typesetting terms (bold,
italic, underline, large font, small font) instead of structure
(definition, reference, address, heading, caption, footnote).  And
because authors are now so accustomed, they tend to shy away from tools
that don't reinforce that perception and so it's a self-perpetuating

Still, we have to deal with the world as it is, and not as we'd like
it to be, and all the above paragraph proves is that we'd make our
authors "less uncomfortable" by just going along with what they've
become used to.  Indeed, when I present the wiki to new audiences
I'll often use the terms "italic" and "bold" for these markups because
I know it's what they most readily identify with.

But I don't think I want ''...'' and '''...''' to mean <i> and <b>,
because (1) to me, these markups really do represent "emphasis" and 
"stronger emphasis", and (2) if I do that then I'm leaving authors 
without a good means to get to the <em> and <strong> tags and what
they truly represent.  

For (1), the choice of ''...'' as markup for "emphasis" finds 
its analogue in the use of double-quotes to emphasize things when 
writing in a monospace, single-weight environment (e.g., my use of 
the double quotes around "emphasis" in this sentence).  Since we want to
preserve the meaning of the double-quote character to represent
true double-quotes, using two single quotes on either side of the 
emphasized item is a convenient shortcut.  And it naturally extends to
'''...''' when we need a slightly stronger emphasis.

Changing ''...'' to be <i>...</i> would leave authors without any useful
way to get to <em>...</em>, even though we already have (or can make)
other ways to get italics.  So if we really need things that mean
"italic" and "bold", let's use or make other ways to do it visible to

First, it can already be done with WikiStyles -- a wiki administrator
(or a PmWiki default) can be to %define=i font-style=italic% and then
the italic markup can be %i% italic text %%.  Similarly, we can do
%define=b font-weight=bold% for %b% bold text %%, and for free we
get %b i% bold italic %%.

But the percent-signs look a little ugly, so perhaps a better solution
is to use '/italic/' and '*bold*' (or maybe **bold**) for <i>
and <b>.  To me, these look at lot more like what they represent
and are probably easier for an author to find and remember than 
'' and '''.  It also preserves a nice symmetry that has developed 
for the inline styles (John Rankin deserves the credit for this):

    '/*bold italic*/'
    '''strong emphasis'''

Indeed, we could even continue this symmetry to get rid of
the totally ugly @@monospace@@ markup and substitute one of


The first one retains the analogy to the [@escaped monospace@] markup, 
which itself was just the combination of [=escaped=] and @@monospace@@.
Somehow the second one looks nicer, but it has some dissonance with
the [=escaped=] markup (unless we say that '=...=' also escapes its 
contents, but that introduces dissonance with the rest of the inline

And perhaps all of the monospace markup should just be relegated to 
wikistyles anyway, as in

    %define=tt font-family:monospace%
    %define=cmd tt white-space:pre%

    The following text is %tt% monospace %%.  
    To display a list of files in a directory, use %cmd% ls ''dirname'' %%.

Anyway, to get back to the original suggestion, I think my preference
would be to keep ''emphasis'' and '''strong''' as they are now, so that
there's still a way to write content structurally, and introduce
'/italic/' and '*bold*' for the <b> and <i> tags.  



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