I created a highlighter for org-mode which worked great (pre orgmode 9.0). But now my customizations are being ignored...

Here is the excerpt from my init.el file:

    ;;; Create highlighter face
    (defface my-highlight-face
       '((t (:inherit org-default :foreground "#000000" :background "#ffffe7")))
       "Face for highlighting text")
    (defvar my-highlight1-face 'my-highlight1-face)

    ;; Add to list 
    (setq org-emphasis-alist `(("*" bold)
                                     ("/" italic)
                                     ("_" underline)
                                     ("=" org-verbatim verbatim)
                                     ("~" org-code verbatim)
                                     ("+" ,(if (featurep 'xemacs) 'org-table '(:strike-through t)))
                                     ("!" my-highlight1-face verbatim)))

    ;;; Reload org to make it stick

To check that this worked, I restart emacs and run M-x customize-variable > org-emphasis-alist. Scrolling down, I can see that my-highlight1-face has been added to the list:

screenshot of org-emphasis-alist

But opening a random org buffer and typing !text to highlight! does nothing.

What am I missing?

  • 1. Show the exact error message. 2. The ,(if...) won't be evaluated because you've hidden it inside quote - use backquote instead.
    – Drew
    Jan 20, 2018 at 15:06
  • Thanks @Drew. I updated my code to use backquote and I just ran --debug-init. The ccomplete error message is posted above.
    – Adam
    Jan 20, 2018 at 15:55
  • @Drew I have updated my original post. Turns out the error I was getting had no relevance. Fixed this and also swapped in backquotes but this still doesn't work. Please see revised above. Thanks!
    – Adam
    Jan 20, 2018 at 20:38
  • The marker in your lisp code is a sharp sign while in the custom buffer it is an exclamation mark. How does this go together? As a general rule: Don't mix customization via customization interface and setting up options via setq. This can cause all sorts of confusion (on the software side and on the human side).
    – Tobias
    Jan 20, 2018 at 20:45
  • I actually have 4 different highlight faces. For the sake of brevity I paired this down to 1 for stackexchange but failed to select the same face for the screenshot. All my changes were done via setq. I'll revise the code above to match the screenshot.
    – Adam
    Jan 20, 2018 at 21:27

1 Answer 1


Okay, in the end, this post by Steven Pigeon, along with @Tobias' earlier post gave me the way forward. Here is the revised code.

    ;;; Create highlighter face for marking up text in org-mode
    (defface font-lock-highlight-face
       '((t (:inherit org-default :foreground "#000000" :background "#ffffe7")))
       "Face for highlighting text")
    (defvar font-lock-highlight-face 'font-lock-highlight-face)

    ;;; Add keywords
    (defun add-highlight-keywords()
      "adds custom keywords for highlighting text in org-mode."
      (font-lock-add-keywords nil
        '(("\\(!\\)\\([^[:space:]][^\n\r\t]+[^[:space:]]\\)\\(!\\)" . 'font-lock-highlight-face )))
    (add-hook 'org-mode-hook 'add-highlight-keywords)

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