Org emphasize DWIM

Published on Nov 29, 2021, by Junji Zhi

How can we get org-mode to emphasize things smartly? Let’s find out.

Background: After hiding the markers and making them colorful, I want to make the act of emphasis as easy as possible.

The M-x org-emphasize or C-c C-x C-f is close but does not meet my expectation because:

  • It prompts me to input the marker, which is extra overhead
  • It requires me to mark the region first. Too much ceremony needed.

Basically, I need a command that can do what I mean (DWIM).

My editing intention goes something like: Depend on the cursor position, it either emphasizes the current word, or starts a new emphasis region.

I found this SO answer. With some tweaks, I had a working solution:

;; Adapted from
(defun org-emphasize-dwim (&optional char)
  (unless (region-active-p)
  (org-emphasize char))

(defun org-emphasize-with-verbatim-dwim ()
  (org-emphasize-dwim ?=))

(defun org-emphasize-with-code-dwim ()
  (org-emphasize-dwim ?~))

I use code and verbatim a lot, so I created two dedicated functions for them: (org-emphasize-with-verbatim-dwim) and (org-emphasize-with-code-dwim).

Below is the implementation of (jz/maybe-mark-word).

(defun jz/cursor-outside-of-any-word ()
  (not (bounds-of-thing-at-point 'word)))

(defun jz/cursor-at-beginning-of-a-word ()
  (eq (point) (car (bounds-of-thing-at-point 'word))))

(defun jz/maybe-mark-word ()
  "Mark the current word. If cursor is outside of a word bounds, mark the empty position."
  (unless (or (jz/cursor-outside-of-any-word) (jz/cursor-at-beginning-of-a-word))
  (unless (jz/cursor-outside-of-any-word)

The gist is to prevent calling (backward-word) if the cursor is at the beginning of a word, or outside of a word.

Finally, I bind the functions with backtick key because I found myself rarely use it, so I bind the keystrokes:

(defun jz/org-mode-hook ()
  (local-set-key (kbd "M-`") 'org-emphasize-with-verbatim-dwim)
  (local-set-key (kbd "`") 'org-emphasize-with-code-dwim))

(add-hook 'org-mode-hook 'jz/org-mode-hook)

Right now if I press the ` or M-` key, Emacs emphasizes the current word correctly as I like!

EDIT: When I started programming in elisp and writing macros, I found the backtick is used often, and I had to unset the backtick and invoke the emphasize-with-code-dwim maually with M-x instead.