Enquirer Herald

What color is your world?

There's no shortage of people willing to express their opinions in this world, but it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that we don't all perceive things the same way.

Bear that in mind while I ask what may appear to be an absurd question: What color is your "A"? Yes, as in the alphabet. If you think I may be a candidate for plastic scissors, a phrase I once read in the late Erma Bombeck's humor column, please keep reading.

If you answered red, green, white or any other color, you probably experience synesthesia, even if you didn't know there was a name for it.

Simply put, synesthesia means a blending of the senses, and there are a variety of types, with colored grapheme, in which people see letters or numbers in color, being the most common. Other types include sound to color, in which sounds evoke color, number form, a mental map of numbers that appear involuntarily when the person thinks of numbers, personification, in which months, days, numbers and letters have personalities, and lexical-gustatory, the rarest form, in which spoken language evokes taste in the mouth.

My type of syn is what I consider to be a mild form of lexical-gustatory synesthesia. I don't taste words, but I associate most of them with food items. For example, the word 'no' is a marshmallow, 'me' is boiled ham, and 'I' is a Zero candy bar. Not all my words are foods, though. 'The', 'thee' and the name 'Derek' are made of wood, while 'coast' and 'west' are liquid words.

Synesthesia is not a mental illness or disease, and sometimes runs in families, although syns rarely agree with each other. When I was 16 my mother said the name "Peggy" reminded her of scrambled eggs and of course I had to tell her she was wrong because the name was, and is, cotton candy. My cousin says the name 'Howard' is buttermilk, and several years ago, my daughter announced that Simon and Garfunkel were purple as she sat listening to their music. Most syns enjoy the experience and consider it a gift.

James Wannerton of Blackpool, England, whom I met at a synesthesia conference and has been the subject of many a study, has lexical-gustatory syn . For him, hearing a word, reading a word or even thinking of a word sends his taste buds into a flurry. Sean Day, who moderates and edits The Synesthesia List, of which I'm a subscriber, sees colors projected in front of him whenever he tastes certain foods.

Synesthesia is involuntary and has consistently been part of the synesthete's life for as long as he or she can remember. Typically, the person with synesthesia thinks everyone else experiences the world as he or she does until jolted into reality, usually during childhood while making an innocent remark about syn that is met with disbelief or ridicule from others.

Some researchers maintain that everyone has synesthesia at birth, but it's "pruned" away. But for some the pruning does not occur and the senses remain blended, resulting in a different view of the world.

Karan Moses Robinson is a freelancer based in Clover.

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