Robert Hughes

Articles by Robert Hughes


The magical origin of mistletoe

The magical origin of mistletoe

Mistletoe is special. Every culture that comes across the plant mythologizes it and no wonder. To see mistletoe in England at this time of year, a ball of perfect green life suspended in barren branches, it seems a mysterious, even an other-worldly presence: healthy in the teeth of winter, seemingly without roots or any contact […]

'Macadamize' is a hybrid word meaning to pave a road.

Hybrid words and the development of English

I’ve recently noticed a trend for recipes to insist that I absolutely must use unsalted butter. Now I love the creamy taste of locally produced organic butter as much as the next person, it tastes much nicer with honey on bread than the salted sort. Nevertheless I just don’t get why, when I’ve melted my unsalted […]

Fantasies: what would you do to improve the English language?

Fantasies: what would you do to improve the English language?

On holiday driving through the city at three in the morning you realize what life could be like. Gliding across junctions that are normally clogged up and impassable; rolling along sections of road in two minutes that would keep you half an hour in the morning rush hour; crossing the river you’ve scarcely noticed for […]

union jack

Jack and the Flagpole: what do you call the British national flag?

Travelling around Britain, as I’ve been doing this week, I have been struck, as anyone would be, by the profusion of national flags. Not only are they to be found draped on cars and pinned in bedroom windows this year, the British flag is also being displayed on civic flagpoles, high-street lamp-posts, and pub-signs, and […]

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley and the Oxford English Dictionary

So far as I know the whole of English fiction has only one character who works for the Oxford English Dictionary. In Aldous Huxley’s Eyeless in Gaza we see John Beavis at breakfast, with an unappreciated twinkle in his eye, explaining to two little children the etymology of porridge. He’s cited in the OED at […]

colours connotations

Five Shades of Grey? Colours and their connotations

There used to be nothing erotic about grey. Until E. L. James it was, for me, the colour of John Major’s underpants because that’s how Steve Bell always drew them in his cartoons for the British newspaper The Guardian. Grey is the colour of brains (grey matter) but I don’t think that’s the point of […]

UFO origin

Hold on to your tin foil hat: the origin of the UFO

2 July is World UFO Day, a chance for us all to think about UFO sightings, and, for this blog, to take a journey from clay pigeons to the mysterious habits of abbreviations. Is this a saucer I see before me? On 24 June 1947 Kenneth Arnold, an American businessman, was flying towards Mount Rainier […]

North and South

When south is north and right is left

Last week I drove north from Oxford for two whole days and arrived at the beautiful south. This is not because I’d done a Francis Drake but because one of the very most northerly parts of the island where I live is called ‘south land’ or ‘Sutherland’. I’d have called it something less confusing but […]

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