I really hate looking at raw markup in org-mode documents, so I am trying to replace as much of it with symbols as possible.

So #=begin_ becomes {, src becomes some-glyph etc.

My current approach is to just list a bunch of regexes for each case:

 'org-mode `(("^\s*\\#\\+BEGIN_\\(QUOTE\\) "
              (1 (progn (compose-region (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) "")
             ("^\s*\\#\\+END\\(QUOTE\\) "
              (1 (progn (compose-region (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) "")
              (1 (progn (compose-region (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) "{")
              (1 (progn (compose-region (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) "}")

I wish I knew elisp better to refactor this but I don't. With this approach, you're searching for related syntax elements separately. It seems like it would be much more efficient to first look for an occurrences of #+begin_, replace them with {, then search forward for words like src, quote, comment etc.

I am not sure yet what the performance implications of this are for longer documents (perhaps someone will enlighten me), but I'd like to get off too a good start. Some interesting stuff on font-locking here by @lunaryorn, but it's totally over my head at the moment, and it seems to be about writing new major modes, instead of augmenting the font-locking in org-mode.

  • org-mode is too complicated for anyone to try and add font-lock keywords except as to portions of the buffer that are never touched by org-mode rules and so forth. If any portion of the buffer that is touched by org-mode needs modification, then it is almost certainly better to find the location of code within org-mode and modify it directly. In other words, the premise of using font-lock-add-keywords to answer this question is not a good approach unless one is certain that org-mode never touches that area of the buffer. org-mode touches areas of the buffer in a specific order ...
    – lawlist
    Jul 15, 2017 at 7:10
  • oh god, i hope it's not that bad. what's org-font-lock-hook all about?
    – user27636
    Jul 15, 2017 at 23:04
  • You've already launched the bounty, so go ahead and let it fly its course -- perhaps someone will come with a unique universal approach and I can "eat my hat". When the bounty ends, consider launching a new question that seeks a specific result without restricting the answer to a general approach using things like font-lock-add-keywords. That will enable someone to dig into the applicable code, and suggest a precise solution. org-mode is under constant development, and people use old versions, current versions, etc. -- so be sure to state the particular version you are using.
    – lawlist
    Jul 16, 2017 at 0:15

1 Answer 1


It looks like you want to only specify the regexp and the string,
so just write a little function to add all the rest.

(defun myfun (regexp str)
  `(,regexp (1 (progn (compose-region 
                       (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) ,str) nil))))

Then you can use it in your expression:

 'org-mode `(,(myfun "^\s*\\#\\+BEGIN_\\(QUOTE\\) "     "")
             ,(myfun "^\s*\\#\\+END\\(QUOTE\\) "        "")
             ,(myfun "^\s*\\(\\#\\+BEGIN_\\)[:alpha:]"  "{")
             ,(myfun "^\s*\\(\\#\\+END_\\)[:alpha:]"    "}") ))

Still pretty ugly... what you really want to do is

     'org-mode '(("^\s*\\#\\+BEGIN_\\(QUOTE\\) "     "")
                 ("^\s*\\#\\+END\\(QUOTE\\) "        "")
                 ("^\s*\\(\\#\\+BEGIN_\\)[:alpha:]"  "{")
                 ("^\s*\\(\\#\\+END_\\)[:alpha:]"    "}")))

The parentheses on each line might seem annoying, and you could get rid of them (change this code below) but they keep things straight.

(defun MY-simple-font-lock-add-keywords (mode list-regexp-str)
    (mapcar (lambda (arg) (apply #'myfun arg)) list-regexp-str)))

The question is old, but if we keep the question it should be answered.
This question (answer) has nothing to do with font-lock and highlighting but only changing the format it's coded in.

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