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.”

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.

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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Rob Schwarz

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. For nearly 10 years, he's managed Stranger Dimensions, providing a unique perspective on all matters involving time travel, parallel universes, and whether or not robots might one day take over the world.

2 Comments

  1. I too have had the experience of names bringing food flavors to mind. I’ve never heard of anyone else having this, and not unpleasant ones like this lady.

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