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The semitransparent glass I am thinking of is such that if a person presses the front of his face on one side, the color and shape of the face can be seen from the other side but not the facial features.

Is this an opaque window? A semitransparent window? Or is there a better word?

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It's called privacy glass –  Jim Jul 17 '12 at 7:00
    
@Jim Thanks Jim. Googling privacy glass, however, suggests that the term is associated with a kind of switchable glass that can alter its own transparency. –  Sel Jul 17 '12 at 7:11
    
@Sel- While there are companies out there that make new "switchable" privacy glass, the plain-old regular vision-obscuring glass is still called privacy glass. See here, for example –  Jim Jul 17 '12 at 7:16
    
@Jim Thanks for the follow-up. –  Sel Jul 17 '12 at 7:23
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Another BrE/AmE difference. I've never heard of privacy glass. It's always frosted glass (for a uniform obscuring effect) or patterned glass (where it's embossed or knobbled). –  Andrew Leach Jul 17 '12 at 8:42
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7 Answers

up vote 39 down vote accepted

Translucent is the appropriate word for the semitransparent material.

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Translucent means semi-transparent; however, you will not find "translucent glass" in the hardware store. As noted elsewhere, the marketing term is frosted glass or privacy glass. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frosted_glass –  choster Jul 17 '12 at 13:04
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Yet I've never heard of a "frosted window" (except during the winter). A translucent window of frosted glass, yes? –  Quasiperfect Jul 17 '12 at 13:53
    
I've definitely heard of "frosted-glass windows". –  WendiKidd Jul 18 '12 at 3:22
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This type of glass is called frosted glass. As far as I know, there's no specific word for such a window. It's simply called a frosted glass window.

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Would you call this a jargon or a layman's term? –  Sel Jul 17 '12 at 7:09
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@Sel: That depends. If I were a physicist doing optics research, then frosted would be jargon, and translucent would be the more approriate term. However, if I worked as for a company that insalled bathroom fixures, then frosted glass would be the official term, not jargon or slang. At least one dictionary says in its definition of frosted: (of a window) having a translucent textured surface so that it is difficult to see through. –  J.R. Jul 17 '12 at 8:57
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As Prakash already pointed out they're called frosted glass

To cover (glass, for example) with a roughened or speckled decorative surface.

From another site:

frosted glass diffuses light and blurs out the clear surface of the glass, making it ideal for bathrooms, entry doors and window panels.

On that site you'll see another word describing an opaque glass, too: milk glass. Milk glass is usually used

to make plates, goblets, serving dishes, jugs, pitchers and decorative items

but sometimes you'll hear of a "milk glass window". However it seems to me that it is not that much common using milk glass as frosted glass.

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In Swedish I see 'frosted glass' as the base term and 'milky glass' as extra frosted glass (really hard to see through). –  AndSoYouCode Jul 17 '12 at 11:53
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I think the word you are looking for may be translucent

OED: Allowing the passage of light, yet diffusing it so as not to render bodies lying beyond clearly visible; semi-transparent.

The previously-mentioned frosted glass is translucent, but that does not mean that all translucent glass is frosted.

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There are a number of types of semi-transparent glass that can produce the effect you're talking about. As far as I know, windows made from these types of glass have no specific name -- they would be identified by the type of glass an purpose, e.g. a frosted glass skylight, or figured glass bathroom window, or glass block foyer wall.

Frosted glass windows are made from glass that has been textured via sandblasting, acid etching, or some similar process that changes one (or both) suraces so that they scatter light. The grain on the frosting determines how big the effect is -- frosted glass light bulbs have a very fine grain and have a fairly uniform whitish color (used for "soft" light bulbs). Coarser grains become more translucent, but produce a "blockier" image from the other side.

Figured glass is glass that has some sort of pattern (a "figure") stamped onto the glass while the plates are being rolled out. This is where you get things like shower doors that have blurry or bumpy patterns on them, where you can see the objects on the other side but very distorted. (This sounds the most like what you describe in your question.)

Finally, there is glass block (also called glass brick) which are small bricks of solid glass, which are often cast with a pattern, hollow portion, or distorted surface similar to figured glass. They serve a similar purpose but are used to construct entire architectural elements, such as walls, where both privacy and ambient light are desired.

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One word to describe the glass would be murky.

From The Free Dictionary:

  • Dark, dim, or gloomy: a murky dungeon. See Synonyms at dark.
  • Heavy and thick with smoke, mist, or fog; hazy.
  • Darkened or clouded with sediment: murky waters.
  • Lacking clarity or distinctness; cloudy or obscure.

I think the glass in the window is lacking clarity and distinctness. The person in question is trying to see through the murky glass in the window, and is only seeing a clouded, obscured image.

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I don't think murky is the appropriate word to describe the glass in question. –  Dilip Sarwate Jul 17 '12 at 22:21
    
Murky does have the connotation of being old or dirty, but it could still fit within the context of the question. The original question didn't indicate the tone that they wished to convey when describing why they couldn't see through the glass. –  Zoot Jul 18 '12 at 18:38
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This type of glass is referred to as privacy glass in AE. It fits your description exactly and you can find it at the big box stores in America.

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