Science

What’s Your Name Taste Like? Glasgow Woman Can Taste Words

Synesthesia is a fascinating phenomenon of the mind, occurring when multiple senses seemingly “join” together.

One of the more common forms is grapheme-color synesthesia, in which people see letters and numbers as having their own colors. For example, a person may see the number one as red, or seven as oddly chartreuse.

There are other types, as well, such as chromesthesia (when hearing sounds causes a person to see certain colors) or the very strange Mirror-touch synesthesia (when one person can quite literally feel what another person is feeling, just by seeing them be touched).

As BBC News shared earlier this week, one woman in Glasgow, Scotland has a rather bemusing form of synesthesia, herself: She associates tastes with words, otherwise known as lexical-gustatory synesthesia.

Julie McDowall is her name, and on most days she’s a writer who dabbles in the terrifying topic of nuclear war. But as you can imagine, that’s pretty grim, so one day she decided to try out something a bit lighter: She went to Twitter and offered to, well, taste everyone’s names.

The response was, as BBC News reported, somewhere in the ballpark of “six million notifications.” And the results? Madison, she says, tastes like “ear wax with chocolate,” while Hannah is very much a “tasteless banana.” Sean? That name evokes a “mouthful of furniture polish.” We’re sorry, Sean, but only a little bit.

So, what causes synesthesia? We don’t really know the answer to that, yet, but one idea is that it begins in early childhood as a result of semantic mechanisms (“That is,” reads a study published in 2014, “in certain people semantic mechanisms associate concepts with perception-like experiences — and this association occurs in an extraordinary way”).

I’ve got to be honest, I’m glad I can’t taste words. I do have to wonder how words like microsingularity and chrononaut taste, though. Probably a bit funky.

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