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We are writing a program to add a “matte” around an image but the developers aren't sure whether to name the method matte or mat.

The Oxford American dictionary has mat as an alternative spelling of matte.

In this case, we think mat is less ambiguous because matte when referring to a color could mean either the glossiness of the color or to its purpose as a framing element.

Any advice?

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The Adobe program Photoshop uses the term "matte." –  JLG Aug 24 '12 at 19:39
    
Down voting because the basic premise of the question is faulty. It's not for the English language to resolve confusion between different senses of these words. You should be using neither word for the purpose of what goes around an image in the context of programming. –  Kris Aug 25 '12 at 9:07
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3 Answers

Why not call it a frame or border instead?

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Up votes?! I thought the Q. is 'mat' vs. 'matte', not alternatives. –  Kris Aug 25 '12 at 9:03
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In computer image processing, it's probably a bad idea to use mat or matte to refer to a border, because of likely confusion with another use of matte. For example, I was unaware of this sense of mat (OED: "an ornamental (often gold) border of paper, metal, etc., surrounding a framed picture. Later also: a border or mount of white or tinted cardboard").

The other sense of matte comes from film-making and means a cut-out that hides parts of an image. In the days of physical film, a matte would prevent parts of the emulsion from being exposed, allowing other images to be exposed on those parts later.

(The OED notes both spellings mat and matte, but you can see by comparing Google Books searches for "a mat shot" and "a matte shot" that the latter is the overwhelmingly more popular spelling.)

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Gareth, in painting a mat or (mount in Br. Eng.) is also a paper border around a picture. –  Mark Beadles Aug 24 '12 at 20:18
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That's a new sense of mat for me; I've updated my answer accordingly. –  Gareth Rees Aug 24 '12 at 20:25
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There is no ambiguity. You cannot have a matte-vs-glossy color, because shininess isn’t something you can specify in RGB or HSV. Go ahead, try printing a shiny gold instead of a matte yellow. Won’t happen. It takes incredibly special printing processes to do that. Or gold leaf.

And even if there were an ambiguity, this still would be no problem. People can tell the difference. The frame is the matte, as you said yourself. No one will know what you are talking about if you said mat.

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The frame is also called the mat, quite often. It's just a mess. –  Mark Beadles Aug 24 '12 at 20:25
    
@MarkBeadles Is this like a bath mat or a gym mat, then? –  tchrist Aug 24 '12 at 20:48
    
@MarkBeadles I though those were called mattes, as they are with this matte-cutting knife. –  tchrist Aug 24 '12 at 21:06
    
Like I said, the spelling is a mess. On the plus side, "matting" is correct no matter how you spell the root :) –  Mark Beadles Aug 24 '12 at 23:41
    
@MarkBeadles Now, don't even tell us about 'matter'. :) –  Kris Aug 25 '12 at 9:05
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