Let Me Be Perfectly Clear
  • Maggie Franklin
  • November 3, 2008

Opaque means that you CAN’T see through it.

 

Look it up if you don’t believe me.

 

It amazes me how many people use this word incorrectly. Clients use the word “opaque” when they mean “transparent” all the time. I let it go because I usually get what they mean from the context they use it in, and because I don’t see the need to go embarrassing them over their crappy vocabulary when I want them to give me money, but when it’s my colleagues? Puh-leez. People, get a dictionary.

 

Opaque means that light cannot pass through it. Transparent means that light can pass through it, and translucent is somewhere in between. (I admit the official definitions of “opalescent” and “iridescent” confuse me completely and I probably use them incorrectly.)

 

I will never forget the meaning of “opaque” because I went to high school with a guy who had a story: When Tim was in 8th grade, one of his English vocabulary words was “opaque.” His teacher asked him to use the word “opaque” in a sentence. Tim said, “Mr. McGlasson’s head is opaque.”

 

Which, of course, it was. And still is for that matter.

 

Nevertheless, Mr. McGlasson got all uptight about the sentence and accused Tim of calling him “thick-headed.”

 

Tim never forgot that. He just couldn’t understand why his teacher had been offended. I know Mr. McGlasson so I’m abstaining from comment.

 

So here I am 20-some years later and I know the meaning of the word “opaque.” There are a lot of words that get misused in our language — including many that have developed new uses via slang — but “opaque” keeps getting misused entirely. In a way that ends up meaning someone doesn’t get what they wanted: If you tell me you want an “opaque” polish, I will pull down several polishes that you can’t see through. Of course, clients almost always mean that they want something sheer and we have to start over.

 

If I can just help one person out there to use this word correctly, my life will have meaning.

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