The story of “Semantic”

In the beginning was HTML, and the version of the HTML was 4, and the quality of the HTML was madness. And some people, some wise people, said “This is madness”.

They were right.

So they sought a path out of madness. They said, “this thing we have marked up as red and bold, we did that because we considered that to be important. And this thing we gave a background color because it’s the heading.” And so the things that were headings, they labeled as headings; and the things that were important, they labeled as important, and these labelings they called semantic.

And they were right to do so.

We said, then, that since we liked to avoid madness, we would call all things by their semantic names. And then we had a project with three headers and two sidebars, and we gave them all increasingly strained names, and then the designers gave us a box which was to hold the names of fribbles and the addresses of frobbles. And we asked ourselves: what, semantically, do fribble’s names and frobble’s addresses have in common? And the answer to that was, sadly, sweet fanny adams.

Yeah.

Sweet Fanny Adams.

It turns out that sometimes, a box on the side below the other box on the side, is just a box on the side below the other box on the side.

But we had trained ourselves to ask not just what things were, but what they were semantically. And we had forgotten that the semantics of a thing are nothing more or less than the meaning of the thing. And then when things were nothing more or less than a box on the side. we were paralyzed by trying to find a deeper meaning for the box on the side; we were too busy looking for the semantics of the thing, to let the thing simply be what it was.

And that is why the word “Semantic” makes me sad.

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