Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia and Me

Putting Words in My Mouth

I always wanted to have a disorder. Not a big disorder, of course, just a quirky little one, like maybe having to drive in large squares around town because I could only make left-hand turns; or feeling a strong urge to wear Santa Claus earrings year round – you know, just some little idiosyncrasy about myself that I could casually drop into the conversation at boring dinner parties.

Well, guess what. It turns out I've had one all along, but until watching "Jeopardy” last week, I never knew it had a name. And what a name it has! Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia! (How cool does that sound?) Basically, "synesthesia” is a condition where the senses kind of get crossed, causing some people to process colors as sounds, or to "feel” numbers when they hear music. Those of us who have the much rarer Lexical-Gustatory strain of the phenomenon actually associate certain words with a particular food.

The research I've been able to do (I mean aside from watching Jeopardy) suggests that it's not uncommon for people with L-GS to literally taste the words on their tongues, but I don't exactly do that. For me, it's more a sensation of the food. Let me see if I can give you an idea of what it's like. Say, for example, you hear the words "chocolate cake.” How do you respond? You probably don't actually "taste” chocolate cake, but the mere mention of those words conjures up the flavor and texture just as clearly and vividly as if you were enjoying a nice big slice, right?

Well the same is true for me, except that I have that experience with the vast majority of words in my spoken vocabulary (I'd say about 70% of them) and they have absolutely nothing to do with the names of foods. Their associations, to a large extent, are completely random. For instance, the word "George” conjures up a sensation of pork chops, and the word "next” brings about the flavor of bananas.

And it works the other way around too. Whenever I'm eating scrambled eggs, I automatically think of the word ‘grandmother'; and every time I dine on meatloaf, its association with the word "butler” is so strong I have to resist the urge to say it outloud. Weird, ain't it? Even weirder is the fact that this wacky food fight has been going on in my brain ever since I can remember.

Speaking of which, I can't wait to tell my mother about my new discovery. It'll make her feel so much better having an explanation for all those times when I was growing up and would make such puzzling remarks as "'Jesus' goes with fried chicken” or "Monday' goes with mashed potatoes.” I only wish she'd written every one of those comments down because I guarantee you the very same words would be connected to exactly the same foods today that they were more than five decades ago.

I don't know why I'm telling you all of this. Most of you will probably just pooh-pooh the whole notion, and that includes my very own husband. I've tried for almost forty years to convince him that I had these bizarre word/food connections but he doesn't believe me. Personally I find this hard to understand given all my various other peculiarities that he encounters daily, such as the way I will literally go around placing socks or t-shirts over all the chargers and power strips on our iPads and TV cable boxes at night because I can't stand to see little red/green/white lights piercing the darkness. Or how I refuse to open birthday or Mother's Day cards and gifts ahead of time. Or the fact that I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but only if they are on separate pieces of bread. (Okay, so maybe I have a few more idiosyncrasies than I thought!) The point is that somehow Marc manages to accept these odd little quirks of mine without question, yet when I casually mention that the word "remember” goes with cornbread, he rolls his eyes like an annoyed teenager, and dismisses the comment with a wave of the hand and the curt reply, "Stifle, Edith.”

Well all of that is about to change. For years my husband husband has been saying I'm making the whole business up, but once he finds out that my disorder is official enough to be mentioned on Jeopardy and has an impressive-sounding name like Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia, I promise you, he'll be eating his words – which is only fitting. After all, I've been eating mine for years!

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