<small> tags in html5

Discussion in 'HTML' started by Tim W, Nov 5, 2013.

  1. Tim W

    Tim W Guest

    <small> used to be a sort of typographical tag which was used to make
    text small. It was always (I think) used inside a para or a heading or
    some other element.

    Now in html5, despite what w3schools says (Differences Between HTML 4.01
    and HTML5, NONE.) it has a semantic meaning of something like 'the small

    Does this mean I can use it on its own like:

    <p>Some statements about something or other</p>
    <small>disclaimers re the above</small>

    without wrapping it in a paragraph?

    Tim W
    Tim W, Nov 5, 2013
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  2. Yep. Note, however, that there was no definition for how small the text
    would be. HTML5 is nominally more explicit: it says that the "suggested
    rendering" corresponds to

    small { font-size: smaller; }

    which really leaves it to browsers decide, whereas CSS 2.1 says, in a
    "sample" style sheet for HTML 4:

    small { font-size: 0.83em; }

    The morale is: set the font size, so that you will not have
    *unnecessary* variation across browsers. Usually 0.83em, or maybe a
    little larger, is OK, but this somewhat depends on the font you intend
    to use.
    Ignore w3schools here, and otherwise; see http://w3fools.com
    Which isn't really semantic (i.e., relating to meaning) at all. It says
    nothing about the meaning of the content. It just assigns a vague phrase
    to the element. The explanation is more obscure than the thing it is
    supposed to explain.

    The sensible rule is simple: use <small> if you want something to appear
    in smaller font than the surrounding text even when CSS is disabled, and
    use CSS to set the specific font size proportion. It's really your
    business *why* you want reduced font size, and the user won't see the
    reason anyway, no matter what markup you use.

    You can safely ignore "semantic" babble in this issue, as well as with
    <i>, <b>, <u>, and some friends. Unless, of course, your pointy-haired
    boss or your rich customer tells you to write "HTML5 conformant" pages.
    (And even then, it is a matter of moral and honesty more than anything
    else: how much can you lie and deceit and mislead when it really does
    not hurt anyone and when trying to be honest at any cost could cost you
    your mental health?)

    For example, I use

    <h1>The pragmatic guide to HTML: Principles<br>
    The HTML Anarchist’s leaflet</small></h1>

    even though such usage might not match HTML5 "semantics" as of now (but
    might do so tomorrow, or at some later point).
    Yes. But you might wish to wrap all paragraphs (small print or not) in
    <p> elements in order to be able to style them in a uniform manner.

    And if the pointy-haired boss or rich customer forces you to be an HTML5
    conformist, you can use

    <span class=small>disclaimers re the above</span>


    ..small { font-size: 85% }

    What the users will then lose is just that if CSS is turned off or
    somehow filtered out (e.g., someone is viewing a cached copy in an
    archive that has not stored the CSS files), then the disclaimers appear
    in normal font size.
    Jukka K. Korpela, Nov 5, 2013
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  3. Like what? It's something that someone wants to call "small print".
    Is it? Do you call laws "small print"? If promulgated laws are not legal
    text, what is? Is a copyright announcement "small print" if presented in
    very large font size to convey an essential message?

    How do you *define* "small print" to a person who does not know your
    meaning for it (which is, vague as it is, admittedly common in
    Anglo-Saxon culture)? That is, what are necessary criteria for
    distinguishing small print from other texts?

    The real meaning of "small print" is "text presented in small font". The
    only thing that "small print" adds here is an unpleasant connotation.
    The connotation is that "small print" is text made intentionally harder
    to read, so that nobody is really expected to read it, but people can
    still be sued and condemned on the basis that they should have read it.
    Jukka K. Korpela, Nov 5, 2013
  4. Tim W

    Tim Streater Guest

    In English we do, yes. The expression "Did you read the small print?"
    means, did you read any warnings, legal notices, terms and conditions,
    etc etc, that might be relevant to the point being discussed, whatever
    that might be.
    Tim Streater, Nov 5, 2013
  5. The question was whether you call laws "small print". Laws are documents
    issued by authorities, such as parliaments and presidents, expressing
    their ruling power to dictate what shall be done or shall not be done.
    Such as the Constitution of the United States, or a Copyright Act, or a
    Penalty Code.

    Now, if "small print" means "legal text" among other things, then surely
    such laws are "small print". Or? If a book is a compilation of laws, is
    it entirely "small print"? If it additionally contains annotations to
    laws, printed in small font size, would you still say that the laws are
    "small print" and the annotations are something else?

    What you seem to be saying is that some texts that *cite* laws may be
    "small print".

    But again, what would then be a *definition* of "small print"? Would
    *all* warnings be "small print"? All terms and conditions? Or are you
    actually referring to a presentation style where some bulk of text is
    printed in small font size for some reason?
    Jukka K. Korpela, Nov 5, 2013
  6. Tim W

    Ben C Guest

    If the HTML5 suggestion for it was that it be used to make side
    comments or "small print" then, no matter what we are to think about
    the usefulness of semantic markup, it does say something about the

    The expression "small print" is not tautologous here; it is a
    meaningful expression to indicate legal text, copyright spiels,
    regardless of the size of the text. The expression gets its name from
    the fact that it is customary to put such content in harder to read
    small text. A lot of money has been made by a lot of people from this
    practice. <g>[/QUOTE]

    So probably browsers should display the contents of <small> elements in
    a nice clear easy-to-read font that's a bit larger than usual.
    Ben C, Nov 5, 2013
  7. Tim W

    dorayme Guest

    No, it's not just someone calling it that.
    It's a meaning that must be understood from a family of contexts. You
    cannot always define an expression so that people unfamiliar with it
    will thereby be conversant with it. Dictionaries can only take you so

    As for criteria, one thing Wittgenstein did get right, was that many
    concepts are family terms, not able to be cashed in terms of necessary
    and sufficient conditions.
    No, again. Small print is not just small text.

    The connotation is not that quite. It may very well be intended, and
    as I said, people have made a lot of money from such such an unsavoury
    aspect. An honest author, advertiser, publisher might well draw
    attention to the fine print, small print, in large print. So it is not
    a direct connotation. It may just be a convenience to everyone
    considering a lot of legal blah is very similar to have it not too
    dorayme, Nov 5, 2013
  8. Tim W

    dorayme Guest

    Perhaps in a juster world! <g>

    But no, when I said "regardless of the size of the text", I was
    meaning that the absolute size of the text was not relevant. It
    sometimes if not often denotes material the authors consider to be
    standard between it and its competitors, that it risks the death from
    boredom of potential customers. The urge for small or fine print
    sections is sometimes honourable, to void confusion.

    Sydney has just introduced the Opal card, you tap it on a machine at
    the beginning and end of ferry, bus and train journeys. There are
    constant reminders to do this as it is so new. On the ferries (my main
    experience since I live on the harbour) there are loud announcements
    at every stop! When everyone gets used to this card, I am hoping the
    operational advice will get said more quickly in a quieter voice or
    abandoned altogether. In other words, I want it in the fine print of

    When people want to read a timetable, it is not their primary interest
    to be told about things other than times, so... other interesting but
    not relevant to the main purpose things can be left to the fine or
    small print...
    dorayme, Nov 5, 2013
  9. I don't think it need always be so nefarious. The key feature, I feel,
    is that it's extra detail -- more detail than more people will want on
    the first reading.

    For example, on a food product page, I might put the ingredients in
    <small>...</small>, and I might use it for those attribution/credit
    blocks that so many site designs seem to need at the bottom. Neither is
    being made hard to read for any underhand reason, but rather it's being
    downplayed as being of secondary interest. Small print may be vital,
    but it's considered to be detail that's less interesting than the rest
    of the text.
    Ben Bacarisse, Nov 6, 2013
  10. So you can't give a definition, can you?

    HTML specifications have some tradition of using vague and idiomatic
    expressions that are understandable only to the small fraction of
    world's population who speak some forms of upper-class English and even
    to them in conflicting ways. Don't make me started on <cite> and
    <acronym>, for example.

    But <small> used to be a nice little tag before some people made two
    wrong decisions: to expel all "presentational markup" from HTML As We
    Accept It, and to save <small>, due to its widespread use, my
    transmogrifying into something nominally "semantic". They are doing the
    In specifications, such expressions are to be avoided. It is now
    impossible to say whether a page using <small> is conforming or not.
    Everyone and his brother has a different idea of the "meaning" of
    Anyone tempted to be Wittgensteinian that way should refrain from trying
    to write, edit, or read specifications in that mood. Just as you should
    not give public speech when in Solipsistic mood, or perform surgery when
    in Nihilistic mood.
    So what *is* it?

    Considering a hypothetical web author living outside your linguistic
    community, how do you expect him to use a markup element properly if it
    is defined as denoting "small text" and dictionaries don't tell what it
    means? Should he call you, or Hixie, or the W3C director whenever he is
    considering the use of <small>?
    Jukka K. Korpela, Nov 6, 2013
  11. Tim W

    Tim Streater Guest

    The phrase "small print", is a colloquial one, and renders expressions
    such as "He didn't read the small print" colloquial, the meaning being
    that there was legal [1] text that this person didn't read, but should
    have done for his own protection. Whether the text in question is
    actually presented in small font size does not matter, it would still
    be colloquially referred to as "small print".

    [1] Using the word "legal" here in a general sense to include warnings,
    Ts & Cs, contract text, and the like.
    Tim Streater, Nov 6, 2013
  12. Tim W

    Tim Streater Guest

    No, we don't use "small print" to refer to laws. "Small print" is a
    colloquiallism referring to legalese in a document, NOT a law.

    A law is a statute enacted by a state or the federal congress. It is
    NOT fine print.[/QUOTE]

    Stop behaving like PointyHead. And our laws are enacted by Parliament.
    Tim Streater, Nov 6, 2013
  13. Suppose that your boss, your client, or your professor tells you to use
    HTML that conforms to HTML5. Never mind the absurdity of conforming to
    mutable drafts that have not been really identified (HTML5 CR? HTML 5.1
    WD; WHATWG Living HTML? as of now, or as of yesterday?). Just consider
    what HTML5 (currently all those mutable documents) says about <small>.
    How dare you use it for *anything*? (Well, anything but legalese babble
    that you were forced, e.g. using a gun, to include into your page,
    despite having no useful purpose there.)
    Jukka K. Korpela, Nov 6, 2013
  14. Tim W

    dorayme Guest

    So what? There are many terms that are understood, in all languages,
    that have no definition and certainly no particular explanations that
    are immune to misunderstanding.

    Then you better object to all the colour words because they too are
    largely undefinable except ostensibly.
    Impossible is too strong. The idea of side comments, things that would
    distract from the central message being conveyed, common legal
    disclaimers and such are often easy to understand as conforming. Not
    that I particularly want to defend the idea. It is not an impossible
    idea, it may be not a very useful one, there may be better ideas for
    this element, but it is not impossible.
    It is not any kind of mood to be aware that some concepts do not have
    neat definitions or necessary and sufficient conditions attached to
    them. It is simply being realistic.
    In the thread I have made some gestures towards explaining it, Tim
    Streater has too and also Ben Bacarisse. I had no difficulty
    understanding their remarks.
    He should call anyone who knows the expression "the fine print", "the
    small text" in its uses in ordinary conversation - and if he still
    finds a use for semantic markup, I am sure he will find it easy enough
    to judge for himself.

    I have no axes to grind on this one. If it is simpler to think the
    element is for whenever you want smaller text than your main body
    text, that is fine by me. I quite like the more complicated one
    because it is not just about style, it is about a purpose which many
    authors might well find useful.
    dorayme, Nov 6, 2013
  15. In HTML and CSS specifications, all color words are defined with
    specific definitions in terms of RGB color values. ”Purple” means
    exactly #800080.
    Then tell us how to decide whether <h1>Foolish ideas <br>
    <small>are often called semantics</small></h1> is conforming or not. If
    this is not objectively decidable, conformance concept is useless -
    there is no point in requiring conformance (in instructions, contracts,
    teaching) if there is no way to make two rational, educated people agree
    on whether something if conforming or not.
    Indeed so. And the rational conclusion would be that specifications must
    not use such concepts, at least not in normative parts.
    I have, but more importantly, the statements have been rather different.

    If you cannot explain what a phrase-level element means, in one
    sentence, or at least while standing on one foot, then it is guaranteed
    that the element will be used in so many incompatible ways that it loses
    all meaning in practice. You cannot realistically draw any conclusions
    from it. It’s useless markup, except that it triggers font size
    reduction by default.
    No two persons will really agree on what the purpose *is*, except by
    accident. And no software will pay the least attention to the "semantic"
    definitions. Users will not see the markup - they will not see whether
    <small> or just font-size was used. It would have been better to
    introduce a new element, like <fineprint>, which would have no default
    impact on rendering, or anything. You could define it as you like, and
    use it as you like - pure write-only markup.

    In conclusion, all this "semantics" is really "semantics" in the worst
    sense of the word. What I have been trying to do is to save HTML authors
    from it - in vain, it seems. (I'm not referring to this thread; rather,
    discussions in mailing lists about HTML5.)
    Jukka K. Korpela, Nov 6, 2013
  16. Tim W

    Tim Streater Guest

    An aside is something else again - nothing to do with small print.

    Asides are what you get when for instance a committee chairman doesn't
    do a good job of keeping people focussed on the matter at hand. In the
    theatre, an actor saying something directly to the audience would also
    be an aside (the convention there being that the other actors do not
    hear what this actor is saying. The actor might whisper loudly to the
    audience to emphasise this pretence).

    You might get asides in stories or web pages, where it might be
    annoying for the reader because the asides distract from the main
    Tim Streater, Nov 6, 2013
  17. Tim W

    dorayme Guest

    OK, but the point is how is an author to know when to use #80080? When
    he wants purple. But he needs to understand what purple is. Surely? In
    the case of "fine print" or "small print", it means exactly (according
    to one interpretation of the HTML5 recommendation) <small></small> for
    authoring purposes. I am simply playing devil's advocate for this
    notion, not saying it has to be this way. Just as different people
    might have different ideas as to what purple is, so too there may be
    some vagaries about fine print (as explained by various folk in the
    thread and as widely understood). The lack of sharp boundaries to a
    concept does not seem to me to make it useless for authoring

    I would say clearly not from your example.
    All a browser need do is make the print smaller (they are not
    intelligent language users). The human author can use it as his
    personal tactic to put in legalese, copyright notices etc. And never
    use it *just* to make text smaller, using CSS instead.
    I don't think the idea is so unclear as to be useless in such specs
    just because it cannot be dictionary defined.
    If all of those who understand the phrase from being natives of the
    language or are as conversant as the natives, use it just for
    legalese, some copyright notices, side remarks, it could be a handy
    common understanding between authors. For merely making print small,
    just use CSS.

    Oh well, if it causes confusion to too many people, then the idea will
    wither away and die. Let me try it out for a year or two, as a
    personal practice. I'll let you know how it feels. But I get the
    feeling you are trying to strangle the poor thing before it can get
    Yes, OK, but that is really a different question, a broader one. I was
    assuming there is a reasonable point to semantic markup. If it is
    really true (and you have argued strongly for this in recent times)
    that the promise of semantic markup having a proper resonance in
    browsers is now doomed, then I invite you all to think of it as I do:
    to go on marking up as semantically as possible to inculcate a
    repeatable orderly habit in oneself, to use CSS for styling as much as
    possible, to not start every project with "whatever is practical,
    whatever looks ok in browsers", this latter being too undirected.
    dorayme, Nov 6, 2013
  18. But is that not also true for, say, <em> and <strong>? Not all of the
    mark-up follows inevitably from the content. Sometimes the markup is
    there to impart a meaning what is otherwise not there. Given:

    <em>Not all the contributing authors share this view</em>

    is very different to

    <small>Not all the contributing authors share this view</small>

    Neither is right nor wrong -- they are intended to say different things.

    The OED uses only one:

    "The detailed information or conditions qualifying the principal text
    of a document, typically printed in a smaller type."
    That may turn out to be true in this case. This very thread suggests
    that the meaning is not universal whereas, previously, I thought it
    was. Too much ambiguity will eventually render the element meaningless.

    I don't think the OED does a bad job, but it's quite possible that other
    dictionaries disagree in some significant way. The OED also lists a
    literal meaning ("printed in small type") but I think the HTML5 document
    says enough to make it clear that this is not was is intended.

    Ben Bacarisse, Nov 6, 2013
  19. 5.11.2013 14:19, Tim W kirjoitti:
    Wow, they got that one right :)
    Osmo Saarikumpu, Nov 7, 2013
  20. Tim W

    Tim W Guest

    I am thinking that I might be careful not to put anything in <small>
    that I want google to pick up and give weight to. The implication being
    that <small> is detail you may not want to even read.

    Tim w
    Tim W, Dec 5, 2013
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