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Sir Tim's Legacy

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee lives today in the United States but he's a real knight. He's a real knight as opposed to a virtual one by virtue of his accomplishing things and being English. And as an Englishman Sir Tim invented the protocols and basic parsing ideas used today on his World Wide Web.

Tim's lost a bit of his accent living in the US but the web as we know it will always remain British. Certain elements of HTML that seem to escape his brethren in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts come back at times to haunt.

Perhaps the most insidious of these elements is the basic rule that successive white space characters are to be compressed into a single white space character, be they tabs, ordinary space, or newlines. Put any combination of these together and they'll always show up as a single space in the rendered text.

Of course this helps paraplegic HTML generators immensely. In the dark ages world of Microsoft where the concept of text automatically wrapping to fit its confines is still considered 'space age' and too difficult to conceive of much less to implement this makes things easier. Microsoft's gutter app FrontPage indents things all over the place and then breaks them at the fifteenth column. It looks like shit but it works in Sir Tim's British HTML.

Then too people in the US have this annoying fetish with putting double spaces after a full stop. Why they decided this would be a good norm no one knows and no one seems to be able to shake them out of it. Of course the second space disappears in HTML but those amis have ways around everything.

The special HTML escape ' ' - non-breakable space meant to be used to connect words so they don't wrap - is used successfully in such situations. Making untold difficulties later down the line of course. Especially Microsoft love to automatically insert non-breakable space all over the place when exporting files to HTML format.

The supposition is as folly as it is arrogant: it assumes everyone else using the same language (as people in the US see it) is going to want to follow the same rules and jump over the same basic formatting concepts of Sir Tim's HTML.

Reading a piece of US journalism online is like trying to drive an automobile with an engine suffering from the knocks, starting stuttering and stopping every ten seconds. US journalists have this absolute obsession with spiking their work with an obscene flood of punctuation. Nothing flows freely, nothing is easy to read, and it's all start and stop all the time. So much so that it's basically a good idea to avoid their articles entirely.

Commas and more commas; parentheses used incorrectly with other punctuation; and dashes dashes and more dashes - sometimes single elongated '—' dashes, sometimes short pathetic '–' dashes, sometimes just repeated hyphen (0x2D) characters two or three in a row. It's pathological.

Worse still the most hopeless of them refuse to wrap their dashes in space - meaning you can't get a word break in HTML, meaning lines are jagged, meaning your copy looks butt ugly.

And then the quotes. The original rule was to use the single quote for the first level of quoting and the double quote for the next nested level and then hope for the best after that. US journalists start instead today with the double quote and who knows what they'll do after that. But it sure doesn't look good.

And why do quotes go outside punctuation marks even when they're only enclosing parts of a sentence? Ask any US journalist and you won't get an explanation: that's simply the way it's always been done. And they won't break with the habit even though they know it's stupid because their editors insist they do things that way and if you ask the editors why it has to be that way they'll only say the same thing - it's always been done that way. Compounded multilevel stupidity.

The Wikipaedophiles are hard core criminals here. Long ago when Jimbo and his orcs decided to put an encyclopaedia online they got the idea to divide things up into vanity domains not on a cultural/country level but on a language level. Denmark isn't 'DK' - it's 'DA'. And so forth. For example Portuguese is spoken in both Portugal and Brazil yet 'BR' won't give you the vanity domain for Brazil even though the two dialects are considered substantially different. And English, Australian English, South African English, Canadian English, and New Zealand English are all bundled in the same vanity domain. 'EN'. Which Jimbo figures means 'REAL ENGLISH'.

Clue for Jimbo: the word ENGlish refers to the country ENGland and in every country where something remotely akin to 'ENGlish' is spoken there are different rules and a different colloquy and a different word usage. But imperialist Jimbo doesn't want to see that far. The Brits, the Aussies, the Canadians, the South Africans, the New Zealanders? They have to all contend with 'EN.wikipedia.org'. And the caretakers of that vainglorious mess actually deign to decide and control how articles written for other cultures are formulated, formatted, and punctuated.

A few lessons for these latter day cultural imperialists.

  1. The words 'uh' and 'um' are not in the Oxford English dictionary.
  2. The above words do not correlate to any known punctuation marks either.
  3. Things are written to be read - not to be narrated aloud around a campfire.
  4. The authors should strive for readability - not for the obsessive pedantic.


  1. Get out of the habit of calling yourselves 'Americans' - you share that epithet with countless other peoples in the western hemisphere ('the Americas') most of which you've conquered and overrun at one time or another. Tread lightly: they probably still hate you.
  2. Do not hyphenate adjectives with nouns or adverbs with adjectives.
  3. It's not 'English' and 'British English' - it's 'English' and 'US English'.

Again: the web - if it has any nationality at all - is English. Not 'American'. Show some respect.

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