What’s in a word?

Firstly, for the record, I would like to echo every other report about @media that I have seen: big double thumbs up to Patrick & co for a fabulous couple of days.

The conference wrapped up with a Hot Topics discussion panel comprising Andy, Joe, Doug and Molly. One of the hot topics suggested by an attendee was semantics. There seems to be something of an obsession with the word in web circles, with standardistas bandying around the phrase semantic markup to all and sundry. Joe Clark would like to see the word in the WCAG but, as explained in a recent post of his, the WCAG working group has banned it for any use other than the Semantic Web.

It may be fine to use the word semantic in an official document (who is the actual audience for WCAG anyway?) but outside of academia and working groups, I’ve never got on with the word at all. However apt it may be, semantic is just one of those words that sounds too technical; try putting into conversation and peoples eyes will gloss over.

When attempting to convey the importance of coding documents correctly, instead of saying use semantic markup why not just say use meaningful markup? It means almost exactly the same thing but is much more readily understandable and less off putting. Semantic is not a word that is in regular emply – meaningful is – let’s use it.

Allow me to supplement the preceding with this definition from the Oxford English Dictionary (my emphasis):


· adjective relating to meaning in language or logic.
DERIVATIVES semantically adverb semanticity noun.
ORIGIN Greek semantikos ‘significant’.