Metatalktail Hour: Can I eat this ... word? January 14, 2023 3:40 AM   Subscribe

Happy Weekend, friends! For today's metatalktail party, I'd like to ask about your experience of synesthesia, if any. Obviously all of us are not synesthetes, but I think most of us have distinct sensory reactions to at least some words, for example. Do you hear, taste, smell, see, or feel certain words? Tell us about it!

Or, you could just tell us about words that you like, that maybe make you feel good generally, or reflective, calm, hopeful, whatever ... or just talk about whatever is on your mind, how your week was, what you are doing or have planned. But no politics, please!
posted by taz (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 3:40 AM (38 comments total)

I only have synaesthesia when I'm half asleep or very tired and not paying attention. Then I can see sounds.

They appear as abstract shapes and lines. Like traffic noise will look like a pattern of dark blocks and blobs, and the police sirens like long wavering lines.

The beeps that some teller machines make are little bursts of pale blue.

It goes away if I pay attention to it.
posted by Zumbador at 6:10 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


I don't have synaesthesia, but I once met someone who had a version I've not heard of before - for him, it was people's personalities that had a color quality. Like, as he started to get to know you, gradually you would start to pick up this aura that was a distinct color, unique to you.

This was a stage manager I worked with a couple times; he brought this up during a break in a rehearsal, and discussed how he found this out. He was worrying that he was crazy for a while, and then looked into the New Agey "people's auras" thing - ultimately he rejected that because everything he read about auras was too general (people's auras were only either "blue" or "green") but he was seeing something super-specific ("Sid is Panetone PMS 354, but Julie is more of a Panetone PMS 342"). It wasn't until he stumbled upon a book about synaesthesia that he started thinking that "oh, this must be what's going on".

He said that this kind of thing even carried over to when he was reading scripts - the first time he read a script the text was just black on white, but as he got more familiar with the script, each characters' lines would start to look like they were highlighted in a specific color; he said this really was helpful finding his place in the script during rehearsals. (And only just now am I kicking myself for not asking what happened to an actors' "color" when they were "in character" - did their color switch? Or blend? Or what happened?).

Of course everyone asked him "what color am I?" in turns. And apparently I am a sort of slate blue-grey. Amusingly, he also told me the color of a director we both knew; "this isn't because he wears this color a lot," he said, "but he is a sort of....taupe?" I'd worked with that director a lot, and....I'm not synaesthetic, but somehow that tracked.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I was more synesthetic as a kid than I am now (not really at all now). I remember it being like one of those abilities that suddenly disappeared when I realised not everyone had it. Like I could do accents easily as a kid but that seemed to evaporate the moment I realised this was not universal (though possibly I actually couldn't do accents as a kid, just thought I could, and reality punctured the myth!)
posted by penguin pie at 7:06 AM on January 14


Little eirias has synaesthesia, and one of her music teachers suspects perfect pitch as well, and I'm pretty sure I read an article a year or two ago suggesting that these things are related, which makes a ton of sense to me!

I have something akin to pitch-memory for letter-color associations that I believe I can trace to a set of Fisher-Price alphabet magnets I had as a little person: A is red, B is orange, C is yellow, and so forth. I hesitate to call it synaesthesia proper because it doesn't show up in my general experience, only when I think about the question of "do letters have colors?" My hunch, based on my now decades-expired background in cognitive psychology, is that "unusual persistence of a specific memory / failure to generalize the memory" is where both of these cool cognitive/perceptual quirks come from.

My only other sensory association is with the word sussuration, which gives me a feeling as though the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up with the tickle of a faint cool breeze. They don't actually stand up and I don't actually feel cold! It's just this as-though feeling.
posted by eirias at 7:48 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


I have something akin to pitch-memory for letter-color associations that I believe I can trace to a set of Fisher-Price alphabet magnets I had as a little person: A is red, B is orange, C is yellow, and so forth. I hesitate to call it synaesthesia proper because it doesn't show up in my general experience, only when I think about the question of "do letters have colors?"

From what I've read about it, I think you're right that it's the alphabet magnets more than a synaesthesia response. People with letter-color synaesthesia experience the colors organically - there's a couple of accounts I've read of people with synaesthesia remembering having trouble when they got to grade school and were looking at posters with the alphabet on them, and running into problems because the letters were the "wrong" colors.

"Which color goes with what letter" can be unique to each person too - another account I read was from a person remembering how they met their grade school best friend; they were in kindergarten and asked the other kids if anyone noticed that the letter "A" on the poster was the wrong color. "It's red on the poster," they said, "but A is green." And all the other kids looked at them funny - but most of the kids were looking at them funny because they didn't understand, while one kid was looking at them funny because "no it isn't, A is purple."

(Heh; another favorite anecdote I read was when one person was about 16 and was reminiscing with her father about what it was like for her to be learning how to read and write. She told her father at one point that "the thing that really blew my mind was the difference between the letter P and R. I was blown away by how you could turn a blue letter to a yellow one just by drawing that line." She said that, and her father just stared at her like "what the HELL are you talking about?....." And that's how she found out that "oh, hang on, not everyone does this.")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]


I was once babysitting a little girl – I think she was three or four at the time – and we were playing outside. She suddenly stopped what we were doing, sniffed the air, and declared, “I smell pink!“ I tried to ask her what it was that was smelling pink, and I never did figure it out.
posted by daisyace at 8:05 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


In my mind, odd numbers tend to be more friendly and easygoing, whereas even numbers are a bit more cold and uptight - except 6 with its big jolly belly, the child of severe 2 and slacker 3.
posted by moonmilk at 8:22 AM on January 14 [7 favorites]


When I was young, I experienced numbers as gendered. They were obviously, to me, either girls or boys and the distribution was not 50/50.

Some of them also had personalities. Very few. I can only remember two. Number 4 had the personality of Linus from Charlie Brown. Number 5 was like Lucy. You know how any number multiplied by 5 ends in 5 or 0? That's so bossy, and just like Lucy!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:10 AM on January 14 [9 favorites]


I definitely experience letters, and more so numbers, as having a distinct color. Consonants don't have much of a color but vowels do. Thus, people's names have their own color combination and so do phone numbers. In some cases this helps me remember them.

I've been to a Montessori school, where we learned numbers using a bunch of wooden sticks that each had their own length and color for each number. So for a while I thought that the colors in my head were just those colors. But I've seen pictures of the sticks, and the colors for each number don't match with mine.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:20 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


You know how any number multiplied by 5 ends in 5 or 0? That's so bossy, and just like Lucy!

Bella Donna, I love this!!
posted by eirias at 9:52 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


Sandboarding at the great sand dunes national monument under a full moon on a couple grams of mushrooms, the gum I was chewing became neurally interconnected with the feeling of trudging up the dune to the peak, and I got to experience the taste of spearmint through my feet. It was quite nice, especially compared to sand in your gum.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:55 AM on January 14 [6 favorites]


I have synesthesia under the influence of enough cannabis. Letters have colors and so does music. Some of the letter-color connections are strong enough that by now they're there to a certain extent even when I'm not high. Like I might be driving along noticing how the landscape is so r and s colored.

My daughter has synesthesia all the time. Letters and numbers have colors to her and lots of things, including numbers and cars, have genders. She also has a thing which is apparently another form of synesthesia - when she sees a repeating GIF, it has a sound. Not the sound the action in the GIF would actually make, just some sound that somehow goes with the action.

And here's a weird thing I learned just now from talking to her. To her, the letter and the sound the letter makes have different colors. She says when she hears words, the vowels are the dominant thing determining the color because consonants all make a sound that is the same color, which is sort of gray or brownish, but the colors of the sounds of vowels are all different and brighter. To me, there's no difference in color between the sound and the letter. When I hear a word, I picture its spelling in my head, so the sound is linked to the letters as written; they're the same thing. And vowels don't have really noticeable colors to me. I think i and o are both sort of white when I'm high. I'm not sure I even have any clear color association with a or e. It's super weird to think of the vowels being the dominant colors in words.
posted by Redstart at 11:54 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


Most tastes don't have sounds to me, but cilantro is high-pitched and frantic (and soapy and vile); interestingly, Cubanelles are also high-pitched and frantic (but not vile, just yappy like a little dog who thinks too much of itself). Cumin is low and mellow.

I've been binge-watching This Old House. "Baluster" is a nice word.
posted by johnofjack at 2:13 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]


...but I think most of us have distinct sensory reactions to at least some words

I have one!
posted by y2karl at 2:45 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]


Redstart: consonants all make a sound that is the same color, which is sort of gray or brownish, but the colors of the sounds of vowels are all different and brighter.

YES.
Exactly this.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:34 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


My only other sensory association is with the word sussuration

Oh interesting, I wonder if there’s some mild ASMR going on in response to the word sound?

For whatever reason, most of the ASMR trigger videos give me an instant hard nope feeling, they’re almost exclusively sounds I react badly to.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 4:43 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I feel the same way about ASMR. Those sounds are annoying, not relaxing, and they don't give me any kind of pleasurable frisson.
posted by Redstart at 5:00 PM on January 14


Flonase is like cocaine for allergies and tastes like lavender.
posted by clavdivs at 5:39 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]


Right now we're arguing about whether Flonase aka Fluticasone is Floo-tic-a-zone or Floo-ti-cas-oh-nee.
posted by k3ninho at 6:08 PM on January 14


The words that have made my weekend: "the laundry is all hung up and folded". (the washing machine has been repaired after 2+ weeks)
posted by gentlyepigrams at 6:09 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]


but I think most of us have distinct sensory reactions to at least some words

I don't now, but I definitely did as a child. Mostly it was that some words felt good and others felt bad in a whole body sensory kind of way, from some mixture of what letters, how many letters, and how it sounded, as best as I can remember. I think maybe I liked words with even numbers of letters more than odd numbers of letters, but it wasn't a rigid system at all, and there were letters and sound combinations that I liked and disliked. And I had even stronger feelings about names -- for some reason, the name "Jesse" was like nails on a chalkboard to me for a few years, for example.

That all faded away by about middle school and I can only remember pieces of it now, but at the time it was fairly intense. As a kid I might have lived way too much in my own head.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:26 PM on January 14


I have some synesthesia, but only for numbers at this point. I used to have a bit for letters but suppressed it because it made reading distracting. If I think about it, I will know that A is red, but I try not to think about it and push the colors into black. With numbers, I still have it. It mostly affects how I think about certain number combinations. For example, one of my old addresses had too many pinks and yellows for my taste so it was annoying the whole time I lived there.
posted by gudrun at 8:19 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Certain weird music remixes by collage artist Vicki Bennett (People Like Us) sound and even kind of smell sour to me, in a half-disgusting half-refreshing way like a splash of sauerkraut juice in a cocktail. They even have a kind of dark lime green color. This is pretty much the only synesthesia I can think of that I actually experience (unless you count the integer personalities mentioned above).
posted by moonmilk at 8:53 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


My family and I like to make up words.

Preterrand (pretend+errand): making up an errand to get away from Grandma when she is visiting because she's kinda mean.
Trekognition (Trek+Cognition): how getting home on a new route is always faster because the scenery is now familiar.
Pantraprise (Pantry+surprise): we are eating whatever is in the pantry, this is not the same as fridgeadinner.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:46 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I was once babysitting a little girl – I think she was three or four at the time – and we were playing outside. She suddenly stopped what we were doing, sniffed the air, and declared, “I smell pink!“

Some of this may be what the culture impresses onto us. The Ontario Science Centre some decades ago had an exhibit on the sense of taste and at one point you could have a little bit of candy. It was sort of a white with kelly green stripes and it had a taste that anyone who had grown up in this culture associates with red candy/lollipops. It was strangely jarring.

Like Redstart above, my mild synesthesia gets heightened while under the influence. It can get a bit overwhelming, when the texture of this blanket feels like a soft grey which sounds like the key of A minor and tastes a bit like cinnamon.

In general, I am more able to make connections and see equivalencies after a few edibles, and I have definitely come up with wordplay and metaphors that I do not in my usual frame of mind.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:57 PM on January 15


I feel the same way about ASMR. Those sounds are annoying, not relaxing, and they don't give me any kind of pleasurable frisson.

Same. I don't have synesthesia per se, but some colors make bad sounds in my head.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:12 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


...but I think most of us have distinct sensory reactions to at least some words

I have one!


I do too!
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:17 PM on January 15


My old friend speedlime was an amazing artist and also synaesthetic. Numbers had colours to her. 8 was her favourite number because it was also her favourite colour, a pale lemon yellow.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:14 PM on January 15


For me, numbers have genders and personalities. I don't think it's true synesthesia, just something that might happen to people who think about numbers too much?

ETA omg Bella Donna!!!
posted by BrashTech at 5:39 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


When I was young, I experienced numbers as gendered. They were obviously, to me, either girls or boys and the distribution was not 50/50.

ME TOO.
1 (gray)=M
2 (dark red) =F
3 (yellow)=M
4 (green)=M
5 (blue)=M
6 (bright red)=F
7 (purple)=M
8 (magenta)=F
9 (orange)=M
10 (light blue)=M
11 (gray)=M
12 (lavender)=F
(and so on)

All of the 20s were female but only about half the thirties were.

These also kind of related to music notes:

C (yellow, Male)
D (green, female)
E (black, male)
F (blue, female)
G (orange, female)
A (red, female)
B (gold, male)
posted by thivaia at 8:37 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Late 2003 I finally found an anti-depressant that does exactly what it says on the tin ie set depression out of the forefront of my life. A friend who had found the right anti-depressant had told me that it's like how the music in a movie is pretty fucked up when the teenager is going down the stairs into the dark basement looking for her friend who had gone down into that basement and didn't come back upstairs and didn't answer when you called her name -- "Myrtle? Hey, Myrtle, what's up?!? -- as compared to the music in the movie on a gorgeous spring afternoon with young lovers holding hands and smiling at one another as they walk in a pretty park or a pasture or what-have-you. I was still pretty much hosed, having found out in 2002 and 2003 what manic depression can really be, which is to say a goddamned horror show, it had rocked me and I was still hesitant and tired and wired etc and etc.

And then a new thing started happening, when I was tired, I began to get this vibe like you do when lsd is coming on, that feeling of stepping out or stepping in morelike, stepping in to ??? You know what I'm talking about if you've done some lsd or some mushrooms, it's really interesting and pretty much cool except I hadn't taken any lsd or eaten any mushrooms. And the really fucked up part of it is that it came through my sense of smell, it was an olfactory experience. And so now I'm like "Great. Just great. I'm now stepping into psychosis. Sweet." Manic depression can confer psychosis -- get this, the literature calls it "psychotic features", like it's a dandy thing -- and so now I'm shared scitless, I was on a rise but now it's yet another left turn, The Last Train To Nowhere.

I didn't tell anyone of course, except for my friends in the manic depression chat room I called home at the time. And even there I told only my closest friends, most trusted friends. One of the coolest, rockingest, most barking mad person I've ever known had stumbled into that chat one day and we all fell madly in love with her, and she with us. She not only had manic depression but allso was somewhere on "the spectrum", and, just to keep life interesting for her, she also had temporal lobe epilepsy. She'd tried so many times to kill herself, she couldn't connect with people -- she couldn't look anyone in the eye, but in that chat she didn't need to look anyone in the eye, we laid our hearts out on bright cold screens, text after text, laid our hearts out and invited her in and she surely did. (For fun, go into a chat filled with us and the screen just screams by, we are all of us social and big mouthed and type faster than you can, as you'll soon see.) Anomoly -- that is the nick she chose there, I of course called her Molio -- Molio told me how different the chat was that she'd been into, and I went once into that chat for people on the spectrum and it was like watching paint dry, the screen didn't move at all. Night and day.

Anyways, I told Molio what was happening to me and she instantly told me that it's not to worry, just that I almost certainly have temporal lobe epilepsy; one of the "features" of TLE is olfactory steps into somewhere else. She laughed at my worry, likely called me a mope, or something. Well, I didn't have epilepsy ever but one of my sisters does, and she doesn't have these candy-ass steps just inside the door when in seizures, she went all the way in and fell down and shook and maybe bit her tongue, on and on, The Real Deal, grand mal seizures.

I found out the welbutrin, the only anti-depressant that had every worked for me (I've tried upwards of 17 million of them, had of course tried welbutrin but that was b4 they had it in a time release formulation), I found out that one of the questions the doc is supposed to ask is do you have epilepsy in your family, and, if you do, tell you not even to be in the same damn zip code as the stuff, and hey, didn't you want to try prozac again? (Prozac -- send me m!anic but not the fun mania, the shitty mania where you're violent and fussy and your sex life is dead and fuck no I don't ever want to put that shit into my mouth again, thank you very much.) Apparently my shrink hadn't asked me about epilepsy in my family when writing me for welbutrin, and I'm glad she didn't because what if I'd told her the truth? Screw that noise. We started out at maybe 150mg a day and "Hurray! This shit rocks!" but a week later I'm fading down, which is normal, so we stepped up, maybe 200mg "Hurray! This shit rocks! and then 250mg "Hurray! This shit rocks!" and then 300mg, and it was the same hurray etc and the same step down, too. But 300mg is the most they like to do, and I'm like "Bullshit." and so on to 350mg, rinse repeat, and after a struggle and me being all frowny etc she took it to 400mg, and "Lo, it was good." I of course pushed for more but my shrink pushed back and here we are, still stuck at 400mg -- I've never been able to talk any shrink up higher. They don't even like that I'm here. They don't understand -- I'm special, and like that.

Well. Once Molio told me that almost certainly I had me some temporal lobe epilepsy going on, and then read and found that welbutrin ought not to be even in my condo, much less my mouth, well, i relaxed. Who gives a rats ass? Not I. It actually was even interesting, once I found I didn't have to be scared of it -- hey, just kick back, relax, enjoy the show. This was all in maybe January and February of 2004. I think I penned odes of joy to welbutrin, and if I didn't I ought to have.

Time spins by. Late February, Elena pulled the plug on her and I, and it broke my dumb heart -- she is so lovely, and so great, and I loved her kids, and they loved me, on and on, blah blah blah. I was at that time a Christian, my very own take on it but there I was, I had crosses all over this condo, the living room here dominated by this huge black triptych. I got to thinking "Hey, fuck all of these crosses and the rest of it, that's for Friday, but it's followed by Sunday, Easter. New Life. A new start. Springtime. Etc and etc." And I got all the stuff out of here, gave the triptych to a church for their Good Friday service, then the day after I went to the church and took it all down, the church care-taker was there and I asked him if he wanted it -- he damn sure did, pretty much blew him out of his shoes. (I didn't get rid of it because it sucked -- the thing was gorgeous, really powerful.)

So now comes June, and I'm still down behind Elena waving me goodbye. For a kick, for a lift, I decided to paint using oil every day in July; I'd barely ever touched oil, I had and still have tubes and tubes of it, and everything else you need for oil -- I'm pretty redneck about keeping my brushes clean, you're not done painting until the brushes are clean. Knives a different story of course. Oil is so goddamned interesting, it's like butter, it feels totally different than acrylic, it works totally different, it blends differently, it's just a whole 'nother thing. I don't mind the smell, I know that a lot of people can't stand it but I actually rather like it. Come July 5 I had canvases all over my condo, and I came to understand why some people don't like it, I couldn't catch my breath, it even sortof hurt my chest. I was talking to Duff, another person from that chat room, and she's a painter and a nurse and god knows what all else, she's a trip, lives in NYC. If I wasn't in such good health she might have caught on to what was happening but I was all the time riding that mountain bike and swimming and eating organic gruel and dirt, sucking down mugs of latte -- I make the best latte on the planet, and don't think that I dony't. You'd be wrong.

One of the things I painted July 5 was this really cool bouquet of flowers, on thick black paper. I didn't know it at the time but it was my death bouquet.

July 6 I apparently woke feeling like shit -- that goddamned oil paint! No wonder ppl don't like it. I couldn't catch my breath. Apparently I had been up a few times in the night also.

Long story cut short -- I died on the way to the hospital, stop and go traffic and I'm in Bob's pickup, dead as dead can be. A long time too -- I've timed it, at *least* 8 minutes dead before they yanked me out of that truck, cut my clothes off and put oxygen on me and started pounding on me and shocking hell out of me, I was another 13 minutes dead before they got a heartbeat, at least they had oxygen on me during that time.

I've written this out here and might be you've read it so I'll stop the death dramatics now, and get back to temporal lobe epilepsy.

Due to being dead so long without oxygen I lost my sense of smell. Could have been vision, hearing, whatever else, but what it took was my sense of smell. Which is the thing I'd have chosen, had it been presented to me. It's really opened up the number of women that I can date, for sure. But what I'm writing about here is TLE, and how those seizures came through my sense of smell. So the fact is that I might be overrun with them even as I type, might be I have them all the time, tired or not. No doc I've asked has been able to give me even a clue, just another laugh for my cardiologist -- he's got the best laugh in the world. No way of course that I'd ask a shrink -- I was born at night, but not last night. If you catch my drift. That's the power that docs have, that magic pen, that magic scrip pad; personally, I think I ought to be able to just buy whatever I want, but no...

So anyways, that's my synaesthesia story.

~~~~~

As far as words I like, I've got a fondness for aardvark. Isn't that a great word?

And if I ever get another dog I'm gonna name her Melvin, and only rarely trot out her full, formal name, Secretary Of Defense Melvin Laird.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:59 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


Sussuration! Thanks for this great word. I also like scintillating, and snow that sparkles, and the blue snow shadows of January. I always liked the equation 6+7=13, I have no idea why.
posted by Oyéah at 4:12 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Actually-- and I do not know if this is properly synesthesia -- but to my nose there is a common hint to the scent of purple flowers from hyacinths through lilacs to lavender to iris to nightscented stock, something sweet and spicy mixing jasmine and cloves.
posted by y2karl at 4:47 PM on January 16


I also like scintillating, and snow that sparkles, and the blue snow shadows of January.

And silver white winters that melt into springs?
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:17 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I get a bit of synesthesia when I'm drifting off to sleep and hear an unusual sound, and see a colourful burst of patterns. My current bedroom is on the lowest floor at the back of the house, half underground and very quiet, so I haven't seen them in years. Now I regret not drawing them - I used to remember the patterns, and always had plans to make some art based on them, but they seem to have drifted away.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:02 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I don't think I really have that response to any words. I'm not someone who really thinks in words much - the words come later and take effort. I've always been a little puzzled by people who like or dislike words for reasons that aren't related to their utility. (Cheers to those who do!)

I definitely have experienced something like it when it comes to sound / touch / smell / occasionally colors, though probably not more so than anybody else. There's a lot of music that makes me feel something, in a rather literal sense. Listing musical compositions by color is easy, though it's not like I'm overwhelmed by that sensation when listening. Chords certainly have flavors, including unfamiliar ones in scales I'm unfamiliar with. I don't think it's because of explicit associations, but it's pretty hard to be certain of that.
posted by eotvos at 4:24 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


I can taste words and languages, and experience specific aromas as vibrations or other phenomena. Some numbers have colors. Some colors have sounds. Music has textures and smells.

I’ve always felt deep gratitude for all of this as it has made the world endlessly vivid and amazing. Until just a few years ago I assumed that everyone else did the same.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:36 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Somehow I'd forgotten the oddest food association I have: beets taste like dirt and despair.

God, I hate beets.
posted by johnofjack at 6:49 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


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