On my Emacs 27 on MacOS ("GNU Emacs 27.2 (build 1, x86_64-apple-darwin19.6.0, NS appkit-1894.60 Version 10.15.7 (Build 19H1030)) of 2021-05-17") I use ETBembo 18pt as font for org-mode. However Greek text in org-mode appears to use the font mac-ct:-*-Helvetica Neue-thin-normal-normal-*-18-*-*-*-p-0-iso10646-1 (#x42C) which I find too thin. I suppose this font is chosen because ETBembo doesn't have Greek. However, I wonder why 'Helvetica Neu thin' is chosen.

If I copy/paste the text in a normal Emacs buffer (where Monaco 13pt is the default font) the Greek text uses mac-ct:-*-Helvetica-normal-normal-normal-*-13-*-*-*-p-0-iso10646-1 (#x464), i.e. a normal Helvetica, which I find much better.

Does anyone know why the 'Helvetica Neu thin' was chosen in the first case and how to overrule this?

1 Answer 1


I found an answer myself. I still don't know why the 'Helvetica Neue thin' was chosen, but I suppose it just looks for a font that has the Greek characters, and this was what came up first. That still doesn't explain why 'Helvetica normal' was chosen in the other case.

However, this incantation makes it always use my own choice:

(set-fontset-font t 'greek (font-spec :family "Helvetica" :weight 'normal :height 0.75))

The 0.75 is to make it a similar size as the ETBembo, which looks a bit smaller than Helvetica. enter image description here

  • IIUC (and that's far from guaranteed), Emacs just asks a backend (usually fontconfig on Linux) for the fonts that match some ciriteria and depends on that backend to give it a list: as you surmised it assumes that the first font in the list is the best one to use.
    – NickD
    Commented Sep 14, 2021 at 2:13

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