I use org-mode lists, both plain-text lists and numbered lists. I precede my lists with a "list title," which for me is any line ending in a colon.

Grocery list:
- tomatoes
- spinach
- blueberries

I'd like these list titles to be automatically italicized in export to HTML and LaTeX PDF.

I don't want to do this by making it a headline, since by design, as we know, there is no way to end an org-heading and return to the parent level without creating a new heading.

So instead, I want org to automatically consider any lines ending with a colon as list titles. (Even better would be to exclude headlines and lines that have a period somewhere before the ending colon.)

I figured out how to fontify such lines within the Emacs buffer itself by defining a new face:

(defface list-title-face
'((t (:background "pale green")))
"fontify list titles")

 (font-lock-add-keywords 'org-mode
'(("^.*:[ ]*$" . 'list-title-face)))

But how do I create an org-emphasis type so that the emphasis will be respected in org-export?

UPDATE: org-emphasis-regexp-components looks promising.

1 Answer 1


Org provides a variety of hooks to modify text on export. So, re-using your regular expression and org's italic emphasis, one way would be

(add-hook 'org-export-before-parsing-hook (lambda (backend)
            (replace-regexp "^\\(.*:\\)[ ]*$" "/\\1/")))    

Of course, then it will only appear in the exported document. So you may want to define a custom face and add a hook for the export.

  • Wouldn't it be simpler to define an org-emphasis type? What about using org-emphasis-regexp-components? Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 5:06
  • Org emphasis types require a character to mark the start and end, as far as I know, it won't match an arbitrary regex.
    – user2699
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 5:16
  • This seems like a promising approach. However, it creates some unintended consequences. Here's an example. (The last line should not appear, however it does appear and is converted to italics.) Source is here: incandescentman.github.io/stackexchange/example.org Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 7:25
  • I guess it needs a way to distinguish between list titles and org-mode tags. Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 7:26

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