Daily Archives: July 29, 2013

A synaesthete’s letter tastings

Mary Hildebrandt tastes words more literally than most of us do. She writes the following:

The first time I heard about synaesthesia was in Vladimir Nabokov’s book Speak, Memory. He associates letters, on the printed page and in his mind’s eye, with colours. I can remember how he describes the various blue tones of different “sh” sounds in Russian and in English. I am not sure if I made the connection between my own synaesthesia right away, but I was very interested, and I read about it on Wikipedia. I noticed there was an entry on “Lexical-Gustatory Synaesthesia.” I wondered, before clicking on the link, whether it was about the experience I have of taste-sensations with words, and indeed it was.

Some of my own tasting-notes of words and letters:

Ks, are hard and dry, like tannins, or like chalk. I remember being a child and thinking that the yolk of hard-boiled eggs never felt quite as pleasant as the tannic feeling of the word itself

Ls are chewy, like chewing gum, or sometimes soft… like a thick layer of melted cheddar cheese. “Chelsea” overwhelmingly, extremely reminds me of cheese, because of the “l” and how it’s offset by those vowels, even evoking a cheesy smell.

“Tortellini,” a word like “Minelli” (as in Liza), is very soft, and you could compare it to pasta.

Rs are similar to Ks and other hard consonants. But when offset with a soft “p,” hard vowels can also be very pleasant. I remember a glimmer of my unconscious synaesthesia when I had a teenage conversation with a friend about the “creamiest” word, which I thought was “prepare,” like liquid cream being stirred, almost like the soft Ps are being stirred by the hard Rs.

Yes, my tasting notes of “P” are certainly soft. A word like “petal” is like the soft, supple, juicy petal of an exotic flower, like how it would be to bite into it, or the mouth-feel of its thick, soft shape.

I never really thought about it until I was older, but I think I assumed that everyone “tasted words.” To me, it seems natural – you say letters with your mouth, the same place where you have different taste and texture sensations with your mouth while you’re eating.

I’m always interested to learn more about lexical-gustatory synesthesia if any of your readers have any tips for further information, or comments.

Thanks, Mary!