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As clear as mud

Does our ability to see colours depend on the words we use for them? It’s a question with a rich history

By Jonathan Rée   July 2010

Homer and his guide (1874) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World By Guy Deutscher (Heinemann, £20)

In 1858, long before he became the Grand Old Man of British politics, William Gladstone published a three-volume study of Homer and the Homeric age. In those days the fact that an MP could produce a substantial work of classical scholarship did not strike anyone as surprising. But Gladstone managed to set off a flare of controversy with his concluding speculations about what you might call the “mentality” of the ancient Greeks. Those who believed in cultural progress…

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