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?

  • The Adobe program Photoshop uses the term "matte."
    – JLG
    Aug 24 '12 at 19:39
  • 1
    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

Why not call it a frame or border instead?

  • 1
    Up votes?! I thought the Q. is 'mat' vs. 'matte', not alternatives.
    – Kris
    Aug 25 '12 at 9:03

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.

  • 1
    The frame is also called the mat, quite often. It's just a mess. 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 :) Aug 24 '12 at 23:41
  • @MarkBeadles Now, don't even tell us about 'matter'. :)
    – Kris
    Aug 25 '12 at 9:05

The frame is not the matte, it's a mat--they are different words for different concepts. There is no ambiguity or uncertainty. But I would also suggest 'frame' as it's much less likely to cause confusion.

As for the opposite of glossy, there are various spellings that seem to create discussion. Is it matte, or matt or mat?

The way of resolving this is to refer to the best COMPLETE dictionary for your region. So don;t use a compact or shorter revision, but go to Merriam-Webster complete, or the big OED or whatever your reference is. You are likely to find that Oxford suggests MATT, and M-W suggests MATTE. Both will refer to the other variants of spelling, but the one that is listed first is the dictionary's preferred version.

This is one of the rare cases where the longer (some would suggest more pretentious) variation is the US one :-).


My son Matt said to me, as he was standing on the bath mat, that he likes the colour of the new matte around the picture better.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.