A Modest Definition List Proposal (David E. Wheeler)

Dr. Drang drdrang at gmail.com
Wed Feb 25 22:00:30 EST 2009

I had nothing to say about definition lists (remember when that was
the topic?), but now that we've moved on to tables and the relative
merits of proportional and monospace fonts, I do have some opinions:

1. Regular Markdown--by which I mean Gruber's Markdown.pl--looks
good[^1] regardless of whether you're using proportional or monospaced
fonts. I can't think of any construct in which the width of the
characters makes a difference.

2. Plain text tables almost always look like crap *unless* you're
using a monospaced font, because columns always include a mixture of
visible characters and spaces. I suspect this is one of the reasons
Gruber hasn't put tables into Markdown.pl.

3. Markdown was not intended to cover every situation; it's meant to
be a simple, readable substitute for simple (X)HTML. In this spirit,
we shouldn't expect table additions to Markdown to be able to handle
every type of table, just the simpler types. I like the table syntax
of PHP Markdown Extra and MultiMarkdown for this reason.

4. Using a script[^2] to align the pipes of a plain text table is very
practical if you're writing in a monospaced font. You can write and
edit the table quickly without regard to alignment, then make it
readable by applying the script to it. It's much easier to make tables
this way than to type them out in HTML.

Dr. Drang
drdrang at gmail.com

[^1]: I wish it wouldn't wrap single-paragraph list items in <p> tags
when you separate the items with blank lines (as I've done here),
because it encourages the user to smush the list items together to
avoid the <p>s. Lists with longer items look better with some air
between them.

[^2]: Like the fine script you'll find at [my blog][1].

[1]: http://www.leancrew.com/all-this/2008/08/tables-for-markdown-and-textmate/

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