Why is :box not getting the current background color?. It doesn't even work if I setq a variable with the color hardcoded, but if I set the hex color as a literal it works perfectly. If I evaluate manually the sexp (face-background 'default) it returns the right color #1E1C31 ( a dark color, but if you notice on the screenshot is setting a bright color ).

(set-face-attribute 'tab-bar-tab-inactive nil
  :family "Cascadia"
  :foreground (face-foreground 'default)
  :background (face-background 'default)
  :height 1.3
  :slant 'italic
  :box '(:line-width 9 :color (face-background 'default))

enter image description here

In my opinion my question is not exactly the same as this one: https://emacs.stackexchange.com/a/7487/7006

In both cases the solution could be solved creating a list, but in this case as @db48x explained there's an alternate solution with quasiquoting that the other answers discourage the use.

  • 3
    Does this answer your question? How to evaluate the variables before adding them to a list?
    – Drew
    Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 14:30
  • This question gets asked relatively frequently, in slightly different forms. It's essentially based on misunderstanding quote.
    – Drew
    Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 14:30
  • That question helps with this answer to understand the concept of quote, but with @db48x answer it makes more sense on using (or not using in this case ) of quotes on the attributes of the :box face
    – Fabman
    Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 14:39

1 Answer 1


Because you put it inside of a quote.

'(:line-width 9 :color (face-background 'default)

This is quoted, so it is not evaluated. It is simply a list of four things. The last one in the list is another list with the symbol face-background and the list (quote default) in it.

There are a couple of ways you could write this so that will be evaluated. Use the list function, which constructs a list out of its arguments:

(list :line-width 9 :color (face-background 'default))

Use quasiquoting instead:

`(:line-width 9 :color ,(face-background 'default))

This lets you use the comma operator (,) to interpolate a value from an expression that will be evaluated.

See chapter 10.3 Quoting and chapter 10.4 Backquote of the Emacs Lisp manual for more information.

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