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The effort of making the web more semantically structured, or making the developers and designers aware of the necessities and benefits of following particular forms and patterns while preparing the mark-up of a web page gain popular foothold more than a decade and a half back; its importance has only been felt with greater magnitude with each passing year, with each step of improvement and innovation in the sphere of world wide web. Each and every article that is written on sandbox projects is carefully structured to convey a clear, impressionable message communicating its importance. Meanwhile, in the sphere of mere English language we seem to have lost our ways in the midst of a mad rush to an illusory conformance.

A proper usage of punctuation marks not only serves its grammatical purposes of sectioning blocks of contents in meaningful (semantic) passages but also carries a sense of a responsibility from the author to the intended audience. If you neglect the difference between an ellipsis and three consecutive periods in your article it is as bad as any misspelt word.

In the often referred arena of typography, there is a concept of ‘glyphs’. A ‘glyph’ is a representation, specific shape of a character, therefore uppercase ‘A’ and lowercase ‘a’ are two different glyphs while they both represent only one character of the English alphabet. And it is the same with ellipsis and periods, an ellipsis is represented by one glyph but three periods do not constitute one representational glyph and for a good reason. There is a very simple test and you do not have to open your browser for this one, try to write three consecutive periods in a word processor and you will see how it changes its shape and can then be selected as a single entity; not as three distinct periods.

So next time around remember to use the HTML entity for ellipsis which is …

A natural progression should be a discussion on the usages of quotation marks, whose tumultuous ancestry could be traced back to the wedge shaped annotation marks used by Greek grammarians. Since then a variety of forms and placements have evolved, thereby creating an extravaganza of shapes and usages often across individual scribes and geographic regions. These citation marks included commas, dots, curves and dashes, flourishes of many freehand forms. It is during the mid 18th century that the modern ‘quotation marks’ or ‘inverted commas’ took a life of its own.

Following British customs, direct speech is enclosed first within single quotes and if there is a direct speech within another then that one should be enclosed within double quotes. For the Americans it is exactly the opposite, start with double quotes and while quoting within a quote use single quotes.

HTML entities for,

single quotes – ‘ and ’

double quotes – “ and ”

The modern form of indented block quotations arose as a result of the abandonment of a popular practice where long lines of quotes were preceded by quotation marks at the beginning of each new line thereby leaving a space along the left margin.

It should be noted at this point that guillemet or angled quotes or French quotation marks (« ») is not to be used for the purposes of navigation in a website.

Primes on the other hand signify ‘units’. Seconds, inches, arcseconds are denoted with double prime while single prime is used for minutes, feet and arcminutes.

HTML entities for,

single prime – ′

double prime – ″

Apostrophe which in English serves distinct purposes such as marking the omission of one or more letters and marking of possessive case is unfortunately often confused and incorrectly substituted with prime, acute accent and closing single quote.

HTML entity for apostrophe is – ’

These are only a few of the many nuances that we often overlook or are ignorant about. Typewriters gave birth to ‘dumb quotes’.

In the world of web however, we do have a choice.