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I'm trying to understand the meaning of the word "translucent" when used to describe optical properties of objects. Does it mean "I can see through" or "the light can go through"?

I understand that water is transparent (and colorless), whereas iron is opaque. What about colored glass: it's still transparent, right?

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Now, let's take the same colored glass and turn it into a shape which distorts light. Does it become translucent, or is it still transparent?

enter image description here

Finally, what about wax? It's certainly not transparent, but some light manages to go through. Is it translucent then?

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In general, you should use only one of "transparent", "translucent", and "opaque" when describing objects, otherwise it can get confusing. A window is transparent. A window with a piece of white paper over it is translucent. A window with a black curtain over it is opaque.

If you have a colored glass through which you can clearly distinguish objects, I would call it "transparent" (or at least "see-through") even if the images of those objects are distorted by the glass.

colored glass

If you are talking about actual stone marble, cut thin enough to allow light to be seen through, I would call it translucent:

marble lamp

Of course, objects can be partly transparent/translucent, especially if made of mixed materials.

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  • I'm not talking about actual stone marble, but about toy marbles made of glass. If I understand you correctly, those are transparent by your standards, right? Dec 19 '16 at 20:49
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    Yes -- although the challenge is that most toy marbles are made of mixed materials, so it's not always clear. Like this marble made of clouded glass, which I would call translucent. I would say if you can see the outlines of objects through the glass, I would call it at least semi-transparent.
    – Andrew
    Dec 19 '16 at 20:57
  • You seem to disagree with the other answer which called my marbles translucent (and I specifically mean the marbles in my question, made of homogeneous clear colored glass). Dec 19 '16 at 21:25
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    Yes which is why I put my opinion in a separate answer. I guess the true answer is that it can be a matter of personal preference. Sorry if this confuses the issue.
    – Andrew
    Dec 19 '16 at 21:27
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The definition of translucent says:

1 permitting the passage of light:
a: clear, transparent <translucent water>
b: transmitting and diffusing light so that objects beyond cannot be seen clearly

while transparent:

having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly

(Note that 1a. of translucent basically says that transparent objects are also translucent)

I'd argue that in your case:

  • water is transparent and translucent
  • colored glass is transparent and translucent (there are rare cases, depending on the ambient light and the color of the object behind it, where the object cannot be seen - then it's not really transparent)
  • the marbles are translucent, but not transparent
  • the hot wax is also translucent, but not transparent
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  • Ok, thanks. Is there a word which I could use to tell apart the marbles and the wax? Wax is matted and marbles are clear? Dec 19 '16 at 19:46
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    Matted is indeed what you're looking for. I'm not sure if clear can be used for colored objects.
    – Glorfindel
    Dec 19 '16 at 19:58
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    @DmitryGrigoryev I'd say that wax is matte. "Matted" sounds like tangled fur.
    – Catija
    Dec 19 '16 at 20:11
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    It might be that glass technically qualifies as translucent, but I think its transparency trumps it. In other words 'completely transparent' subsumes 'partially transparent' . To put it another way, I would never describe a clear glass window as translucent, but your picture of wax candles exactly illustrates the word. The marbles are a little difficult - I'd call those 'clear glass marbles' as opposed to those 'milky' ones you sometimes see. . . .
    – peterG
    Dec 19 '16 at 22:31

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