I had already started drafting this post when the lovely folks at wordpress.com posed the question “if you could change one thing about your theme what would it be?” My answer applies not only to Twenty Ten but many other themes as well.
What I would change is the heavily-styled block quotes. Many themes sport giant quotation marks and fat vertical lefthand borders with their block quotes. Ugly and pointless. But even worse is the themes, like Twenty Ten, which add italics. This is a serious problem. Ok, maybe not serious like war and pestilence, but it’s more than just a matter of personal preference.
Italics convey meaning. If you’ve ever read a novel that uses italics to convey a character’s inner thoughts, you know what I’m talking about. The italics add weight — portent — and writers hopefully wouldn’t do that unless they had a good reason. Italics are not decorative. When a wordpress theme (for example) forces you to have your blockquotes in italics it is giving a meaning to your words that you may not intend.
Italicizing something that’s already indented in order to “set it off” is redundant. Twenty Ten, WordPress’s default theme, is very well designed for the most part. In fact, except for the italicized block quotes, I think it’s fantastic. Over at the demo blog they defend their decision because “Italics are good to help set it off from the body text (and italic Georgia is lovely at this size).” Ok, I agree wholeheartedly that italic Georgia is lovely at this size, but indentation alone is plenty sufficient to set the quote off from the body text.
Forcing you to italicize quoted material probably means you’re quoting it incorrectly. Let’s not forget that the purpose of block quotes is to set off large blocks of quoted material. Quoted material. When you are quoting someone else’s words you are morally obligated to quote them correctly. If the original has italics, so should yours. If the original does not, neither should yours. If you add italics into quoted material you are supposed to let your reader know with an “italics mine” at the end. Because, you know, italics convey meaning.
There are a couple of ways you can get around the italics, short of paying for the CSS upgrade or (cross your fingers) persuading the theme designers to change the code. Both hacks are problematic from a web standards point of view, though. If you want a tutorial or more explanation leave me a comment and I’ll write a follow up post, but I think I’m done ranting for now. Hopefully wordpress.com is listening…