Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia

2007.11.24 :: sandwich diary
olive bread from roche bros, dijon mustard, lorraine swiss, sliced pepperoni (roche bros), tomato, salt, pepper, arugula, fig vinegar

today’s photo is from the archives… november 2007. i wanted to have something to look at, but what i wanted to post about is something i listened to on the way to work today: KCRW’s good food podcast.

in the july 4th podcast, there is a discussion of a condition called word taste (aka lexical-gustatory) synesthesia. people who have this very rare type of synesthesia actually experience the taste of food when they say, hear, read, or sometimes just think about certain words. my first thought was a tinge of jealousy, because if i could control what the flavors were, this would be wonderful! unfortunately, people affected by the condition can’t control it… i can’t even imagine the onslaught. the bit about having a friend who tastes of earwax is pretty unfortunate.

listen to the interview! the interview begins at 49:00. i suggest subscribing to KCRW’s good food podcast even if you aren’t a resident of southern california… i’m not, but i enjoy hearing about what’s in season out there, and i always learn something from the interviews! it’s free through itunes.

i first heard about synesthesia from a documentary about daniel tammet, the guy who was able to recite the digits of pi to 22,542 places, from memory. his type of synesthesia causes him to experience numbers as a landscape of colors — recalling the scene allows him to recall the numbers. if you love nerds and find neurological conditions fascinating, i suggest seeing the documentary (the title can be found on the wiki page – click his name above).

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17 thoughts on “Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia

  1. i’ve seen a tv program on synesthesia. this guy with lexical-gustatory synesthesia seemed unable to go outside much as everything he hears and sees gives him some sort of distaste in his mouth, overwhelms him, and makes him nauseated. as much as it was fascinating, it just seemed so…difficult. in the same program, they also showed daniel tammet reciting all those pi digits. interesting stuff.

  2. it does sound totally debilitating and miserable once you actually think about what it would be like. i admit, though, that my first thought was how cool it would be to be able to taste the food i was desiring without actually having to consume it. of course, texture is crucial, but it would be nice to have flavor on command.

  3. i love u’re blog
    i never can look on your ocitures without getting hungry

    du u want to make a linkexchange??

    greets from germany

  4. I actually have a synaesthesia variant, and a relatively mild version. Many, many words, particularly proper names and nouns, “are” things that bear absolutely no relation to their actual meaning. Much of it is food-based, but not all. Angie is chicken and stars soup. paul is a large white peeled onion sliced in half. Eric is a tiny blue plastic harmonica that I once got from a box of cracker jack as a tiny child. Susan is butter. Jeff is Corn Chex. Amy is brown gravy, as is David. It’s never been debilitating or too distracting, it’s just THERE. I thought that everybody had these uncontrolled, unchanging pictures that came with words until I mentioned it to a friend (friend = slice of rye bread) in my twenties and was greeted (greeted = chip dip)with confusion (confusion = ice cubes cooling a bowl of vegetable soup). Later a friend told me about a radio program (graham crackers) she’d heard about synaesthesia. “It sounded like you!”

    I didn’t think that’s what I really have, since I don’t generally actually “taste” the words (I think it has something to do with the shape of the word in the mouth), but I wound up posting a few questions on a site where a researcher (Sean Day) was gathering and dispensing information on the subject. He confirmed that yes, it’s yet another rare variant of synaesthesia. Once I started reading up on the condition, many other slightly eccentric aspects of how my head works made so much sense….it was really kind of a relief to find out about it!

    • I’m so glad you don’t find it debilitating! I can definitely imagine that it would be a relief to learn about the condition. Thank you for including info on what things “are” to you (i find “ice cubes cooling a bowl of vegetable soup” most interesting – it’s not just words but memories or ideas)… it makes it a little easier to comprehend. Have you ever met another person who experiences words this way?

    • Wow…I have the same condition as you do. :D I don’t actually taste the words, but they have rather strong associations with tastes. For instance, I perceive my sisters’ names, Heidi and Moriah, as cilantro and oatmeal, respectively; “jealousy” is strawberry jam, “news” and “luck” are both chicken soup, “health” is weak cream and so forth.

      Researchers say the whole thing stems from childhood. I’d like to believe that lexical-gustatory synaesthetes can feel the same tastes with words, and that may or may not be true (according to my senses, Angie = angel food cake; Susan = buttered corn; greeted = garlic sauce).

      But thanks for mentioning that you have LGS too. :) This whole thing is just amazing.

  5. I ACTUALLY have this! I’ve always thought everyone could taste words but I stumbed across an article on the internet about it and I was totally shocked to find that its an actual recognised psychological and rare thing.
    I cant help it, random words make me think of certain food, and while Im eating it I think of the words.
    Some examples of mine:

    Blue = Raspberry yoghurt
    yellow = custard
    Gold = chocolate caramel bar/wispa bar
    Thousand = Walkers Quavers
    Song = Walkers Wotsits
    Charge = cheese
    tone = Kellogs Frosties

    I could go on, but I wont. Its kinda freaky that not many people do the same :S Its actually a pretty awesome thing, I dont find it annoying at all, I enjoy it sometimes, because I love food so much :D

    • Amazing – thanks for commenting! So glad to hear that you enjoy it sometimes. Do you ever associate words with bad tastes, or did you totally luck out?

      How crazy to discover online that the way you perceive the world is different from most in some way. Thank goodness for the internet!

    • No, I’ve never had any bad experiences at all, everything is pleasant. I always enjoy it and always have done, it never makes eating difficult for me or reading, it just makes it more fun. It even helps me remember words in my college work eg in the book Im studying for classics, it helps me remember names of characters and such.

      Yeah, I mean ever since I was little I’ve been curious about it, but I just assumed everyone could do it. I even remember explaining to my piano teacher when I was about 6 or 7 that I could taste McDonalds chips when she said certain words. But it wasnt till recently that I was properly curious about it but I had no idea what it was so I didnt know where to start. Luckily for me, I accidentally stumbled onto a page on Wikipedia about synesthesia; on a forum site someone had made a topic about synesthesia and posted a link. When I saw that synesthesia was when people have two senses overlapping I looked for any indication to food and words and I found it!! I was so shocked that hardly anybody has it, it made me wonder how other people feel when they’re eating. Well, at least I found out what it was, and if I’d never found that page by accident I still wouldnt know about it. I am still incredibly shocked at just how rare it is, and even most people lucky enough to have synesthesia have colour-related ones.

  6. I have this type os synesthesia too and so does my mum. It is a little frustrating because sometimes I really fancy eating certain foods after a conversation (soggy sponge cake tasting of fruit jelly)that I really can’t get my hands on. But it is nice (sweet pink cake mix) when you’re trying to think up something to cook (raw egg) and be creative (pitta bread, green & red peppers). It’s a wonder I’m not over weight really! It’s great to hear of other people who have this too :) Anyhow, hope you’re all finding this weirdness interesting (green lime jelly & single cream). Byeee!
    Tamsin (dark red damson jam)x

    • Thank you so much for sharing! And I’m pleased that your name sounds so delicious. :)

  7. i believe i have lexical-gustatory synesthesia. i wonder if i could have a ‘mild’ case of it? for me, there are many many words that strongly remind me of a food. i will perceive the words with a taste that i believe the word WOULD taste like, if it were a food, but i don’t actually literally get the taste on my tongue, as though somebody were rubbing that particular food on my tongue. but i do start to salivate and have a week, semi-taste in my mouth, kind of like my brain is trying to create the taste itself without the actual stimulus. does this make sense to anybody? example: the word ‘plan’ tastes like spaghetti with butter and pepper. and word example kind of tastes salty, maybe like a slice of ham! idk exactly how to explain it. however for me it’s not debilitating at all and very easy to carry on with every day life. i think it’s cool! please tell me i’m not crazy though :\

    • Sorry for the super-delayed response!

      It sounds to me like you have it. Glad to hear it’s not debilitating for you. I think it’s cool, too, thus my post, though I can’t say I know what it’s like to experience it for myself. As a lover of food and a lover of words, however, I am completely fascinated, and a teeny bit jealous. :)

  8. I discovered that I had this form of synaesthesia in the eighth grade when we had to roller skate in P.E. My friend kept mentioning how much her ankle hurt, and I eventually blew up at her because ankle tastes like peanut butter toast (only toasted enough for the edges to be crispy) and it was making me too thirsty in the heat! She had read A Mango-shaped Space, so she told me that it wasn’t normal to taste and feels textures of words. It was news to me!

    I’m actually researching it some more at the moment because, though I can generally deal with it unless someone says a word that makes me truly nauseous, I’ve found in college that it makes it nearly impossible to try to converse in foreign languages (let alone trying to explain it to Japanese or French professors!). So, in that sense, it really can be difficult to deal with. When two words taste completely different and mean the exact same thing when read, yet are spoken with an accent that causes yet another flood of tastes and textures… it’s quite distracting.

    I also find many words to have more than one flavor. “Crucible,” for instance, starts off tasting like metallic parsley, hits a quick, chilly peak, and ends off with a split second of slimy, saltiness not unlike phlegm.

    • How fortunate that your friend had an idea of what you were dealing with. It would be a bizarre thing indeed to be yelled at because ankle tastes like peanut butter if you hadn’t any idea what might compel someone to say such a thing. I haven’t read that book… I’ll check it out.

      I hadn’t considered that a word said with a different accent would have a different flavor… I wonder if that is common for others who experience words as tastes?

      Crucible sounds disgusting… I’m sorry for even typing it again. How interesting that it’s similar to the way a wine or perfume tastes/smells one way at the front and different as it fades.

      Thanks for sharing!

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