Emacs Jargons (Glossary)

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

If you are new to emacs, here's some emacs jargons, terminology explained:


current cursor position (beginning of file is 1)
A cursor position, that starts text selection.
Text selection
cut text.
kill ring
a history of copied text.
transient mark mode
A preference setting, to have text selection highlighted
A preference setting, to have standard copy cut paste undo keys
a vertical rectangle area of text.
reformat lines so each line is no longer than 70 chars. (aka. hard-wrap lines.)
Universal Argument, prefix arg, digit argument
Emacs: Universal Argument (prefix arg)

Buffer and File

A opened file, or unsaved new file, or a working area where emacs displays text. Similar to browser's β€œtab”.
visiting file
Basically a opened file. when a buffer's content is a file, it's said the buffer is visiting the file.


major mode
a setting for a buffer for a specialized task, e.g. edit programing language, view files in a dir, view image, shell, etc.
minor mode
a specialized setting, usually for all buffers. Think of this as a preference setting.
a variable that stores a list of functions, to be called when some event happens.

Keyboard Keys

meta key
a key that exist on lisp keyboards.

by default, it's the Alt key on Microsoft Windows and Linux. βŒ₯ option key on the Mac.

super key, hyper key
a key that exist on lisp keyboards.

Graphical User Interface Elements

A pane or frame, e.g. a pane in a split window
a special buffer that pops up at bottom to displays prompts and user input.
echo area
the bottom line of the screen that displays messages temporarily. The messages are stored in
mode line
the bar at the bottom of a emacs window, indicating file name and major mode it's in.
text style. e.g. font, size, coloring, underline, etc.
font lock
syntax coloring.
Fringe area
little vertical strip area on left and right sides of a window.

sometimes used to display line number or line return symbol to indicate line continuation.

emacs 29 fringe 2023-09-01
emacs 29 fringe 2023-09-01

Emacs Principle