Word of the Week: Opaque

Word: opaque

Pronunciation: oh-PAYK

Part of Speech: adjective; noun


  1. (adj.) not able to be seen through; not transparent
  2. (adj.; figurative) hard or impossible to understand
  3. (n.) an opaque thing or substance

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

“Opaque”, like “pedestrian“, is a simple word with at least two distinct meanings: one concrete and one abstract. Unlike “pedestrian”, however, it’s easier to see a connection between the two definitions. When describing a physical object as “opaque”, you’re affirming that no light can pass through it, and thus it cannot be seen through (as opposed to a transparent sheet of glass or a translucent plastic bag). Similarly, when something abstract (like language or an idea) is “opaque”, it’s difficult to see through it to understand its deeper meaning.

His car was so filthy, even the windows were starting to become opaque.

The slang the teenager used with her friends was completely opaque to her parents.

The original spelling of the word in late Middle English was opake, which was eventually influenced by the French form to become the modern spelling. The definition comes from the Latin adjective opacus (feminine opaca, neuter opacum), meaning “dark” or “shaded”. The first time I heard the word “opaque” was in my seventh grade science class, where it simply meant the opposite of transparent, but I’ve since come to learn and appreciate the word’s more abstract meaning through literature. As far as using this word in my own writing, I often prefer the figurative definition, as it can help to illustrate elements of the story intended to be more mysterious, though it also works well when trying to establish that an object’s lack of transparency is important to the scene in some way.

On a side note, this word can also be used as a noun to mean something that’s opaque, although I myself have rarely heard it used in this way. In terms of photography, the word refers to a substance used for producing opaque areas on negatives, which might be handy to know if you’re looking to create a detailed profile for a character who’s a photographer. I know I’ll find that useful someday…

I like the word “opaque” for the same reasons I like the word “pedestrian”: its differing meanings that can be used in both literal and figurative contexts, as well as the unique sound of the word itself. Overall, “opaque” is a good word for any writer to know, and in my opinion, it can make for some interesting descriptions. Have fun with it!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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