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…since then css has basically abused and manipulated these layout rules beyond recognition so it may seam very weird how/why some things are done.

CSS hasn’t abused it, authors have. The CSS spec intended the float property to be used for, well, …floats. Once you realize that, all of the “weirdness” of how they work goes away.

inline-block is what I use in cases like this – after all, “blocks in a lineis literally what we want.