I feel your pain

by Scott Smith

My favorite columnist is Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun Times. His work is great and literate — too good for such a pathetic newspaper and perhaps the worst web site ever created, as well as the slowest.

Neil goofed in Wednesday’s column. His momz called him out

Arggghhh. . . .

Permit me a visceral groan of frustration. And again.

Double arggghhhh. . . .

I’m a word guy. Or try to be. I believe words are important, attempt to choose the proper word for a particular circumstance. Right tool for the job.

At least a dozen readers, including my mother, pointed out that I referred to the light-admitting plastic roofs of UPS trucks as “opaque.” Some were polite. Others not. One scolded me in verse. Another found deepest significance in the blunder.

“Just more evidence that we are witnessing the collapse of Western Civilization,” wrote Fritz Plous.

I hadn’t looked the word up. Thought I knew it. Thought “opaque” expressed a certain quality of milkiness, one — if I may defend an error — indeed present in the definition of “opaque” in my New Oxford American Dictionary: “not able to be seen through; not transparent: the windows were opaque with steam.”

That is not the end of the story, however. The complaining readers cleaved to a more stringent standard, such as the one in my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: “blocking the passage of radiant energy and esp. light.”

“Impenetrable by light; neither transparent nor translucent,” says the American Heritage Dictionary definition sent in by yet another reader.

“The word you should have used is ‘translucent,’ ” said my mother.

Right again, Mom. The Sun-Times regrets the infelicitous word choice.