Meaning of Lisp List, Function Type, and Syntax Coloring
emacs lisp manual distinguishes symbols by the following categories
Kind Predicate Example ---------------------------------------- Special Form special-form-p progn Macro macrop when Command commandp count-words Prefix Command none help-command Function functionp file-name-directory Constant none dir-locals-file User Option none after-save-hook Variable boundp buffer-file-name
you can see that in each symbol doc entry in elisp manual is prefixed by one of the above “kind” words with two dash. For example,
-- Command: find-file filename &optional wildcards
;; eval this in emacs to jump to elisp manual page (info "(elisp) Visiting Functions")
Note: there are only 1 Prefix Command in elisp manual: help-command
Note: there are only 2 constants in elisp manual: • dir-locals-file • display-buffer-fallback-action
Note: these “kinds” are mostly not mutually exclusive. For example, special form, macro, command, are all functions too. Rather, this “categorization” is helpful on what the function is most useful for, or give indication about some behavior of the function. (For example, special form and macro don't eval args in the normal way, and special form is written in C, while macro is user-define in lisp, while command is callable by user as M-x.)
so, to me, it'd be helpful that emacs lisp mode color symbols by the above categories.
for some reason, the emacs-lisp-mode does not. (i asked about how emacs-lisp-mode chose to color some decade ago, but haven't got satisfactory answer.)
if anyone wants a elisp mode colored by the “kinds of symbol” approach above, try Emacs: Xah Emacs Lisp Mode.
as to your question, as other said, lists are s-expressions, proper list or not. List is made of atoms separated by space. Atom itself is a s-expression. s-expression is either atom or list.
the first atom in a list is sometimes called the “head” of expression. It is special, in the sense that this atom is presumed to be function.
also, it's critical to understand that there are 2 senses of “list”
in lisp literature. One is linked list datatype, as in many but not all
other programing language's sense (and this is implemented by nesting
in a proper way (with last con's last element being nil), called proper
list). The other sense of list, is lisp's internal syntax, it is the output
of lisp “reader”. In summary: lisp reader takes the source code, output
lisp “syntax” (lists), and this “syntax” is feed into lisp compiler.
To really understand it, you have to understand lisp “reader” in detail. (lisp has a 2-level sense “syntax”. One sense is like all other programing languages, which is what programers type to be valid code. The other sense, is the output of lisp reader. Lisp reader reads in what you typed, and return (in some internal sense) a textual “list”.) Lisp calls this “syntax”.
GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual: Read and Print (info "(elisp) Read and Print")
in practice, understanding lisp reader isn't much useful for most lisp coding tasks. It's useful when you want to write a language, or do advanced meta-programing.
PS of this thread so far, i recommend /u/RobThorpe 's answer. His perspective is more of a low-level with implementation.
or, buy something from Best Keyboard for Emacs