You keep using that word.

In a comment on one of Jeffrey’s blog posts, Tantek wrote:

We as a community that is learning/relearning/teaching all this stuff need to vigilantly clarify what’s what rather than calling things “HTML5″ that are not actually HTML5 (e.g. CSS3, Geolocation, etc. etc.), and correct the marketing messages being shouted from various rooftops so we can better understand and reliably build HTML5 websites and web applications that use HTML5.

Jeff Croft argues just the opposite:

Sometimes we just need a word to rally behind. And put in job descriptions. And claim we “support” (another word that is mostly meaningless). It’s a language thing and a human psychology thing.

For the most part, I think what Jeff is saying is fine …assuming we’re talking about managers, marketers, and other people who aren’t making websites for a living. For the rest of us down in the trenches, I think it is important to understand what is in which spec. As Jeff later clarifies:

That “HTML5” means something different to marketers than it does to web developer is an annoyance, no doubt — but I don’t think it hinders us any real way, and I don’t know that we need to, as Tantek suggests, “vigilantly clarify” the matter.

Fair enough. If someone in middle management wants to use the term HTML5 where they previously used, say, “Web 2.0”, that’s fine. But here’s the problem…

A couple of weeks ago, I got a got phone call out of the blue from a local web developer. My mobile number is listed right here—anyone is free to call me whenever they want. He had a reasonable enquiry. He wanted to know if he could pop ‘round to the Clearleft office and buy a copy of my new book directly from me rather than ordering it online.

Alas no, I said. That’s my personal stash, not for resale.

But while he had me on the phone, he asked a couple of questions about what’s in the book. I started talking about semantics and forms. He asked Does it cover CSS?

No. Nope. Definitely not. The book is very specifically about HTML5, not CSS3.

And then he said But CSS3 is part of HTML5, isn’t it?

He’s not in management. He’s not in marketing. He builds websites. And the scary thing is, I think he’s probably fairly representative of many working web developers.

Don’t get me wrong: I honestly don’t care that much about whether something like geolocation is technically part of HTML5 or not: that’s a fairly trifling matter. But CSS3? C’mon! In what universe is it in any way acceptable that a web developer wanting to learn about web fonts begins by Googling for HTML5?

Still, it could be worse. At least, to the best of my knowledge, no working web developers are quite as misinformed as the New Media Age journalist who listed some HTML5 Key Facts such as:

  • Supports sophisticated typography…
  • Supports social content and sharing…
  • Key features are part of CSS3…

Clarifying what is and isn’t in HTML5 isn’t pedantry for pedantry’s sake. It’s about communication and clarity, the cornerstones of language.

In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote:

A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.

Have you published a response to this? :