Long Live the Q Tag

by Stacey Cordoni

107 Reader Comments

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  1. if they did, it would be easy enough…

    That is,

    …if they did support aural stylesheets, it would be easy enough…

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  2. I remember that back in the day my teacher, a short woman packed with a great heart for teaching, told us about the q tag… This was back in the day of N vs. IE… love the memories.

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  3. Personally, I think the Q element is very useful, especially since the choice of quotes basically comes down to locale (which Q provides)

    I’m not sure about this. An article from ALA, say, is written in US English, so uses US punctuation and marks up quotes with English double quotes. Someone in France might download the article and read it in English, but the quotes would remain English double quotes.

    If the article were translated into French, then the quotes would change to French double caret marks, but this would be part of the translation process. The quotes would then remain French quotes even if the French article were read in the US by an English speaker.

    So the punctuation of quotes is set by the author’s choice of language, in which case why have the user-agent insert the quotes? They aren’t going to change from one reader to the next, they’re part of the text content and, ultimately, control over them lies with the author, not the user-agent.

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  4. If CSS if off, this looks quite terrible.

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  5. Isn’t it wrong to have the browser render what is essentially punctuation.  I’m all for the q tag to seperate it from normal text, but why have the browser render quotation marks?  why don’t we then have tags for <question>(?), <exclamation>(!), or just regular <sentences>(.)?

    IMO, the browser shouldn’t render punctuation… it should be the job of the writer to add the correct punctuation and the q tag should be used only to style that text accordingly.

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  6. Accomodate a broken browser by breaking the ones that work? 
    No thanks.

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  7. Accomodate a broken browser by breaking the ones that work? No thanks.

    But the browsers that don’t recognise <q> include JAWS and Home Page Reader so “Accomodate a broken browser” = “Accomodate users of screen readers.”

    I think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record.

    The technique described in the article works with screen readers. The <q> tag as described in the HTML 4 spec does not. Therefore, from an accessibility point of view, Firefox and Opera are broken.

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  8. I noticed that the Snapshot to this article is a paragraph with the quotes around it. Shouldn’t this be a blockquote or use the q element? I found this to be fairly funny given the current article.

    Jim: It looks to me like Firefox/Opera are the ones that work correctly, and that it is JAWS and Home Page Reader that are broken. You claim that the article’s technique does works even in screen readers (good), but it is a hack many people here are upset about hearing as it’s not the way the spec was supposed to be implemented. Because IE is so prevelent, we do understand the need to get that to work, as we understand the need to get screen readers to work. Finding out that the popular screen readers are just as broken should come as no surprise to us, as JAWS and Home Page Reader rely on IE. Now, it’s my believe that condtional comments to add the quotes for IE and IE derivative browsers is the best method (with web browsers styling for non-JavaScript enabled). My personal preference is for Simon Willison’s solution. Now, of course this doesn’t fit the case where JavaScript is disabled in screenreaders, as (I assume) most developers here don’t really know enough aural CSS like they do screen. Can you offer some suggestions?

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  9. Hi Brian, “Jon Gibbins tests”:http://www.dotjay.co.uk/tests/screen-readers/q-element/ (discussed in an earlier comment) showed that JAWS running on Firefox ignores quote marks generated by the <q> tag too.

    As Joe Clark pointed out, you don’t have to follow the HTML spec when the spec is clearly broken. I’d advise ignoring <q> and using proper punctuation to mark up quotes, or use the <q> tag and the technique in this article to remove generated quote marks in Firefox and Opera.

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  10. Now, of course this doesn’t fit the case where JavaScript is disabled in screenreaders, as (I assume) most developers here don’t really know enough aural CSS like they do screen. Can you offer some suggestions?

    Another of my tests (currently JAWS-only) notes that aural CSS is next to useless, with only Opera being of any interest:
    “Abbreviations and Screen Reader Support for CSS2 Aural Style Sheets / CSS3 Speech Module”:http://www.dotjay.co.uk/tests/screen-readers/abbreviations/

    Unfortunately, the whole implementation of <q> is ruined by a badly considered recommendation, causing browser inconsistency and leaving assistive software unsure what the heck to do.

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  11. In my opinion, the best way is to avoid Q tags altogether.

    I don’t want to trust anyone else—particularly not a computer program—to decide what’s the best way to punctuate my writing. So what if Norwegians have a different way of punctuating their quotations? If someone in Norway is reading my website, it’s still an English website, so I still want it punctuated in my (English) way. If someone wrote a Norwegian website, complete with Norwegian-style punctuation, I’m sure they’d be similarly annoyed if an English browser altered it.

    As for screen readers, they should be able to change their tone accordingly when they encounter a bit of text surrounded by quotation marks, just as they pause when they encounter a comma.

    I wouldn’t mind using the Q tag if it was harmless. But it’s not harmless—it adds content to my content (and in an unpredictable way, too). OK, I know the spec says that we should always use Q tags, but I don’t see why we can’t carefully disobey certain things in the spec.

    As far as I can tell, using quotation marks without Q tags causes no problem for anyone. Am I wrong on this?

    Who actually benefits from the use of the Q tag?

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  12. I’m not sure if some of these remarks are meant to be facetious, but they need correcting just in case impressionable youth come away not getting the joke. The W3C recommendations concerning the “˜q’ element and the “˜before’ and “˜after’ pseudo selectors and the “˜content’ attribute are not the broken part. Every user-agent I’m familiar with supports those consistently except for IE. There’s all this talk of a technique like this being needed until IE 6 and IE 7 become obsolete, but they’re actually obsolete already and we still need to find a solution because they’re the most popular browsers despite their obsolescence.

    I would imagine that if JAWS really doesn’t support speech styling (and I find that dubious) that it will not last long in that market. Why would anyone who needs to use the web and has visual disabilities tolerate a user-agent that doesn’t support CSS. That largely defeats the purpose of accessible user-agents.

    Also there are several comments that lump quotation marks with other punctuation. However they are different which is shy the W3C recommendations treat them differently. Quotation marks are typically only one of two ways publishers display quotations. Often times quotations will be displayed as indented blocks of text when they exceed a certain number of words (e.g. 25 words). I’m not talking about a block quotation that contains paragraphs and the like but a straight text quotation that exceeds a certain number of words. This is clearly an issue of separating semantics from style. A quotation is the semantic. Whether that semantic is presented with quotations marks before and after it or whether it’s presented as an indented block is the style. Likewise in aural browsers, the quotation may be read by a different voice to indicate its a quotation. There are several semantic constructs that have perhaps less importance than a quotation that are also typically placed within quotation marks. By removing the semantic “˜q’ element and lumping that with all of the others we lose that semantic distinction.

    Finally, I am surprised at how much leeway the web community gives Microsoft who is solely responsible for all of the clamor, debate and in-fighitn among web designers as they try to find solutions to this dilemma created by Microsoft. How difficult would it be to fix the “q”? element (for those of you who don’t do application programming, I’ll give you a hint: not very difficult at all). They’re clearly jerking us all around and we end up fighting amongst ourselves.

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  13. Rob, none of these comments are meant to be facetious – just practical and factual.

    IE is broken in terms of supporting the spec. I don’t think anyone has said otherwise. However, in my opinion, the spec should never have taken control of punctuation away from the writer.

    Aural CSS never took off and support is very limited in browsers. If you find that dubious, run some tests. Screen readers don’t support CSS, browsers do. Screen readers rely on browsers for information. And JAWS is a well-featured screen reader. Aural CSS support will have very little impact on its market life. Now if browsers offered better supported and the screen readers and browsers “talked” more, that’d be great!

    Incidentally, CSS2 Aural CSS is depracted in CSS3 in favour of the Speech Module, so I can’t see Aural CSS getting increased support.

    How are quotation marks different to other punctuation? I don’t understand. In English, there are different rules for how quotation marks are used, where they are positioned, etc. Usage of punctuation requires human control over that punctuation, just as accessibility testing requires a human to run manual checks. How can you support that software should be in control of any kind of punctuation?

    I’m not saying that the q element is worthless – it does add meaning to a document for software. But it is next to useless in practice at the moment. I hope this changes.

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  14. (Sorry – something weird happened to me post…)

    Rob, none of these comments are meant to be facetious – just practical and factual.

    IE is broken in terms of supporting the spec. I don’t think anyone has said otherwise. However, in my opinion, the spec should never have taken control of punctuation away from the writer.

    Aural CSS never took off and support is very limited in browsers. If you find that dubious, run some tests. Screen readers don’t support CSS, browsers do. Screen readers rely on browsers for information. And JAWS is a well-featured screen reader. Aural CSS support will have very little impact on its market life. Now if browsers offered better supported and the screen readers and browsers “talked” more, that’d be great!

    Incidentally, CSS2 Aural CSS is depracted in CSS3 in favour of the Speech Module, so I can’t see Aural CSS getting increased support.

    How are quotation marks different to other punctuation? I don’t understand. In English, there are different rules for how quotation marks are used, where they are positioned, etc. Usage of punctuation requires human control over that punctuation, just as accessibility testing requires a human to run manual checks. How can you support that software should be in control of any kind of punctuation?

    I’m not saying that the q element is worthless – it does add meaning to a document for software. But it is next to useless in practice at the moment. I hope this changes.

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  15. Rob has a point when he says quotations don’t need to have quotation marks around them. I can imagine designs where quotations are displayed in italic, for example.

    So there is a difference between meaning and layout, and I don’t see a reason why a browser should automatically add quotation marks. Quotations usually have quotation marks, but not automatically. By the way, does anybody know how quotations are handled in non-latin script languages like Japanese?

    If the browser wouldn’t add them automatically, you could decide if you add them either manually in the code or with CSS :before and :after. Thus we wouldn’t have to discuss which way is best to get rid of them. I assume that’s the reason why XHTML 2.0 has dropped automatic quotation marks.

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  16. Martin, I agree with you, but I’m a bit lost now. If Rob’s point was that quotations don’t need to have quotation marks around them (e.g. in different languages), it negates his point that IE is broken and the W3C Recommendations are correct.

    (Also, would an editor be kind enough to delete my previous duplicate post? I have no idea what happened, but my comment didn’t appear the first time I submitted it and now there are two! Thanks!)

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  17. Jon, that’s right. It’s a contradiction I can’t resolve either.

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  18. I don’t know if another post is going to help this, but let me try this again. First there’s confusion between semantic languages and presentation. Nothing has changed in the W3C semantic recommendations regarding the “˜q’ element (even in the draft XHTML 2.0 recommendation). The recommendation is that authors should leave off quotation marks and use the semantic markup of the “˜q’ element instead. The presentation is then handled by CSS (either through the browser’s default stylesheet or through an author or user style sheet). The second point I was trying to make that has failed to clear up the confusion is that quotation marks are not like other punctuation. They are one of the ways quotations are presented. The other way quotations are often presented is as an indented block (particularly when the quotation goes beyond a certain length). I”˜m not talking about different languages here, I’m saying in English in the same document quotations get presented in two different ways. These are the sorts of decisions that are best left to the publshing-time through style sheets and not hard-coded ito the semantics of the document. So having a semantic construct like the “˜q’ element is far superior in my view than hard-coding presentation into the document. When asking why should the author leave quotations up to the software, that’s a red herring question. The author is not leaving quotations up to the software. The author is authoring semantics in the semantic markup (HTML, XHTML, etc) and authroing presentation in the presentation portion of the software (CSS, XSLT, etc).

    I don’t have easy access to JAWS, so I cannot test whether it responds to CSS directivves like the voice-family or pause properties. Again like IE, why do users and authors tolerate such poor software. Switching voices by CSS selector would be just as simple as adding generated content before and after the element for IE.

    Also, it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say the aural CSS has been deprecated. The speech media type is largely a renaming of the aural media type. What is being deprecated there (as part of this renaming) are a few properties that were aural but didn’t relate just to speech (like aziumth). All of the speech related properties from CSS2 remain in the draft CSS3.

    Let me finish by saying I think the conditional comment approach mentioned by Ian Oxley in post #56:

    e.g. Did you know <!—[if IE]>“<![endif]—><q>The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog</q><!—[if IE]>”<![endif]—> contains every letter of the alphabet?

    The problem is that IE will not then participate in the separation of semantics from style that the W3C standards make possible. But that”?s true of many iof the other obsolete browsers as well. It’s merely another sign of the contempt Microsoft shows for its customers.

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  19. http://www.cs.cornell.edu/Info/People/raman/emacspeak/emacspeak.html

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  20. Looking over this conversation again I think aother source of confusion is two separate issues with IE. One (the more serious IMHO) is that it doesn’t support CSS generated content and the associated “˜:before’ and “˜:after’ pseudo-selectors. The second is that id didn’t support the automatic inclusion of quotation marks around the “˜q’ element. The second one is no longer important beacus it has been superceded by the CSS specification. If IE only handled CSS properly this would not be an issue for anyone. Authors who didn’t want to pursue a strict separation of semantics and style could do so by entering quotation marks in their HTML and not in their CSS. Those who wanted to separate semantics and style could enter quotation marks in the stsyle sheet and leave them off ot he HTML. We’d have a choice. Instead we have a MS pain in the ass.

    This is what’s depicted in the XHTML2 draft examples. Doing it either way. However, that’s clearly based on the hope that IE either begins to support CSS generated content or that it continues its decline in popularity.

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  21. Quotation marks are part of the structure of a page, just like exclamation marks, question marks, capital letters and full stops. They add structure, and therefore meaning, to the text.

    The TEI documentation has some useful discussion around “marking up highlighted text”:http://www.tei-c.org/Lite/U5-hilites.html which goes either way for marking up quotations.

    The “XHTML 2.0 recommendation”:http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml2/mod-text.html#sec_9.8. says:

    Visual user agents must not by default add delimiting quotation marks (as was the case for the q element in earlier versions of XHTML and HTML). It is the responsibility of the document author to add any required quotation marks, either directly in the text, or via a style sheet.

    Nothing to do with IE. Everything to do with the fact that the quotation marks may be important to the structure of the document.

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  22. What would we do without Wikipedia? There are “corner brackets”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quotation_mark#Corner_brackets_in_East_Asian_languages in Chinese and Japanese, or think of “quotation dashes”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quotation_mark#Quotation_dash common in literature. Automatic quotation marks inserted by the browser don’t make any sense at all.

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  23. No one is advocating browsers automatically inserting quotation marks. No browser does this anymore. Back in the 1990’s they did. Every browser I am familiar with except for IE now supports CSS generated content and allows authors to use that for quotation marks. IE alone flouts this recommendation and thus creates this controversy.

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  24. No one is advocating browsers automatically inserting quotation marks. No browser does this anymore.

    Firefox and Opera insert quotes automatically. Otherwise, this article would be rather pointless, no?

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  25. Browsers include thd quotation marks using CSS generated content in their default user-agent stylesheet. They do this because of the recommendations of the standard body for HTML 4.01 from 1999. CSS2 has provided this mechanism that makes the HTML 4.01 standard unnecessary.  Their support for CSS generated content makes this simple to override. IE’s lack of support for CSS generated content makes it impossible for author’s to override. I think most web desigenrs know how to handle CSS generated content.

    I read the thrust of this article about how to deal with IE’s lack of support for CSS generated content, especially in the context of the “˜q’ element where it’s necessary for authro’s looking to separate semantics from style. The article’s solution is not as elegant as Ian Oxley’s comment-based solution from comment #56.

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  26. Looking over the results for JAWS posted hrere its strikking that it doesn’t support aural or even speech CSS.
    http://www.dotjay.co.uk/tests/screen-readers/abbreviations/

    It is sad. Why would anyone pay $1,200 for this software (especially for web content)  when there are free alternatives that work correctly. I would imagin anyone with a disability using JAWS is either faking or it’s part of some larger care-taker abuse and the authorities should probably be called to investigate.

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  27. Our beloved IE doesn’t support the Speech module. To my knowledge, Opera is the only browser to have a degree of support. And I think I’m right in saying that Fire Vox gets it’s support for the Speech module directly from the CSS rather than from Firefox’s DOM, which it uses for pretty much everything else. This is because Firefox currently doesn’t support the Speech module in its DOM.

    If the majority of browsers don’t support the Speech module, I think it’s hardly surprising that the likes of JAWS, which relies on browsers for such information, do not support these CSS features either. I’m not sure what JAWS does with browsers that do support the Speech module, because JAWS only works reliably with IE and Firefox.

    As for using CSS pseudo-elements in user-agent styles, I think the point is that browsers shouldn’t even be doing that for us. The fact that it can be overridden using CSS is neither here nor there. Turn CSS off, the browser’s default styles are still there.

    The fact is that the punctuation is still being controlled by the browser. Why? There is no question element for marking up questions so that browsers can put the appropriate punctuation on those – why do it for inline quotes? Besides anything else, it leaves too much room for browser error, when a human is perfectly capable of typing the required punctuation.

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  28. By the way, if anyone wants a good resource on marking up the semantics of quotations in electronic texts, I can recommend “quotations”:http://www.tei-c.org/P4X/CO.html#COHQQ from “Elements available in all TEI documents”:http://www.tei-c.org/P4X/CO.html

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  29. Jon Gibbins writes: “If the majority of browsers don’t support the Speech module, I think it’s hardly surprising that the likes of JAWS, which relies on browsers for such information, do not support these CSS features either.”?

    This is a bit like expecting visual browsers to use the a speech stylesheet when printing. It’s not going to happen. These browsers expose the DOM, including the stylehseets, to other applications, and htat’s the only support necessary for proper speech/aural CSS support. There are several solutions that use speech CSS and the list keeps growing as we discuss this: Fire Vox,  EMacSpeak, Safari (with VoiceOver), Opera. We only needs one solution, but there are several. So regardless of JAWS limitations (and these are limitations that the excuse of it onlly being a screen reader doesn’t justify), there’s no reason to treat JAWS as the benchmark for accessibility. Obviously the benchmark has been set much higher. It is a grotesque disservice to the disabled communnity to encourage web authors to avoid semantic markup to cater to this lackluster solution.

    When you keep saying JAWS is a screen reader, you make it sound like it’s some guy that sits next to you and reads your screen. It’s running on the computer, it has access to the DOM, it has access to the files. It can figure out what CSS is there and do the right thing. Obviously that’s what all of these free solutions do. And these CSS properties are also from 1999, so it’s not like it took JAWS by surprise.

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  30. There are several solutions that use speech CSS and the list keeps growing as we discuss this: Fire Vox, EMacSpeak, Safari (with VoiceOver), Opera. We only needs one solution, but there are several.

    Rob, the solutions you have mentioned have something in common – they are all solutions for the Web. With the exception of Voice Over, the solutions are speech browsers, not screen readers. People use screen readers to make their computers accessible, not the Web. As far as aural CSS goes, we don’t have a solution.

    It is a grotesque disservice to the disabled communnity to encourage web authors to avoid semantic markup to cater to this lackluster solution.

    It’s a disservice to disabled people to not be practical about what we do. It’s frustrating that there aren’t effective solutions in place, whether it be because of limited support or a swiss-cheesed basis. Using inline speech marks doesn’t remove meaning – the text is quoted, it’s a quotation. Adding markup is useful – I don’t dispute that – but when markup does more harm than good, is it not a disservice to continue to use that markup? Just look at the accesskey attribute. It’s a great idea in theory, but problematical in practise.

    It’s running on the computer, it has access to the DOM, it has access to the files.

    I don’t know enough detail about how screen readers obtain information to comment adequately on this, but I do know that Firefox doesn’t expose aural CSS through its DOM – the sole reason that Fire Vox has to circumvent the DOM in order to support the CSS3 Speech module. I suspect it’s the same situation with other browsers.

    Remembering that a screen reader is not just for the Web, ask yourself this question: does JAWS have a dedicated CSS engine? I don’t know the answer, but it doesn’t need an engine for presentational CSS – the browser handles CSS. So it follows that screen reader vendors would have to build any kind of support for aural CSS from scratch.

    For the likes of Freedom Scientific to implement aural CSS support in JAWS, there needs to be an advantage to them for doing so – they’re a company at the end of the day. In all likelihood, both browser and screen reader vendors will probably have to make changes to get it to work. Until there is better support for aural CSS, few sites will use it. Until more sites use aural CSS, screen readers are unlikely to support it. Which came first… chicken or egg?

    Perhaps one day aural CSS will work, but right now it doesn’t, so let’s be practical.

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  31. Jim Gibbins writes: “It’s a disservice to disabled people to not be practical about what we do. It’s frustrating that there aren’t effective solutions in place, whether it be because of limited support or a swiss-cheesed basis. “?

    But you keep saying that and it’s clearly not true. Why is that? I listed several solutions that I’m aware of and whether they are just aural browsers or screen readrs doesn’t matter. The point is the work correctly. Incidentally, you’re wrong about the screen reader issue too. VoiceOver aand EmacSpeark are also screen readers and they handle CSS aural / speech properties correctly.

    There are so many falsehoods in whay you’re saying I don’t know where to begin. Here’s a list of corrections.

    There are many effective alternative to JAWS than handle CSS and semantic markup correctly.
    Using W3C recommendatikons for semantic markup and aural / speech presentation are effective ways of raching the visually impaired.
    Firefox does expose aural properties in its’s DOM.

    You keep saying the opposite of all of this is completely false. And all of your advocacy agasint the visually impaired seems to be only due to a misguided attempt to justify Internet Explorer”˜s lack of standards support.

    What do you do in you’re spare time, steal Christmas?

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  32. Thanks Rob – another insightful and cogent post.

    I just wanted to point out – noone’s encouraging web authors to use unsemantic markup. Far from it. It’s just the semantic description of a quote may include the surrounding quotation marks. Equally, it may not – this depends on context and the quote in question.

    Some semantic markup languages (TEI-Lite, XHTML 2) give authors the flexibility to markup quotes in either fashion. HTML 4, unfortunately, does not and so workarounds are needed if the quote, semantically, includes quote marks and is enclosed by <q> tags.

    Hope that clears up that bit of confusion.

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  33. No, it doesn’t clear up the confusion. It adds to the confusion in the same way you’ve been doing all along. In all practical terms, HTML 4 (1999) along with CSS 2 (from 1998) does allow flexibility with semantic markiup (just like the proposed XHTML 2 draft). IE does not provide this flexibility.

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  34. Rob, I think you are missing the point.

    My personal opinion is that quotation marks should not be added by the browser as is required by the W3C recommendations, and that their addition by browsers rather than the author of the content could in fact be to the detriment of accessibility. Besides, to my mind, quotation marks are part of the content and not presentational information to be left to CSS.

    Yes, it is unfortunate that Internet Explorer doesn’t support certain things, but that wasn’t the focus of what I have been saying. And I am not trying to justify anything about Internet Explorer. The point I rasied was about whether or not control over punctuation should be with the browser at all. The fact that browsers (except IE) allow you to control the delimiting quotation marks that they add via CSS is pretty much irrelevant to that discussion. If you turn off CSS, the browser’s default styles will still be active and the delimiting quotation marks they add will still be there. CSS rules you add will not fix the fact that the browser has control over your punctuation – your content.

    And for the record, I find it unfortunate that you have felt it necessary to descend into rudeness – I will not waste my time replying to you if it continues. If you have a point, I suggest that you collect your ideas into a coherent post before hitting the submit button.

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  35. Another option: leave the good browsers’ generated content alone (cool idea though), and hack IE.

    [removed]
    function fixquotes(e)
    {
      if (e[removed].substring(0,1).search(/”/) -1) e[removed] = ‘“’ + e[removed];
      if (e[removed].substring(e[removed].length-1,e[removed].length).search(/”/) -1) e[removed] = e[removed] + ‘“’;
    }
    [removed]
    <style type=“text/css”>
    q {fixquotes:[removed]fixquotes(this));}
    </style>

    …Good for developers who are in those jobs with high-paying corporate clients, but want to stay as close to semantics as possible.

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  36. Hence only IE support it.

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  37. I tend to use straight quotes instead of using css to needlessly complexify your content to that degree. I’m sure that has been said by others in all of these pages of comments.

    It may offend one’s web 2.0/css sensitivities, but it’s easy, simple, and takes no time to do a search-replace.

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