Taste your words before you spit them out…literally.

Haleigh McGill

Haleigh McGill
Haleigh McGill

Have you ever pushed aside some strange or uncommon characteristic of yours, telling yourself that it’s either not a big deal or you will figure out what it is later? When I was just three years old, I became aware of an ability I possessed that I could not quite figure out how to communicate to other people.

I thought that I was just weird and that I was imagining the whole thing. I got frustrated trying to explain it to people, especially because I was so young when I was first trying to explain the concept. I decided to let it go until recently because I felt crazy talking about it, but my curiosity was relentless. When I finally decided to Google it, I wasn’t sure what to type, so I tried to make it as simple as possible.

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“I can taste words.”

It looked even crazier spelled out in front of me than it did in my head. Nearly all of the search results contained the term “Lexical-gustatory synesthesia.” After making my search more specific, I found some scientific background and insightful information about forms of synesthesia, but I also found a small number of personal blogs and stories from others who share similar experiences.

According to the online Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, synesthesia is “a multi-variant condition in which everyday activities give rise to extraordinary experiences … Lexical-gustatory synesthesia is a sub-variant which is characterized by a merging of sensory and/or cognitive functions … Words trigger accompanying food sensations.”

It has been difficult to find specific experts to speak with on the subject, because a limited number of studies have been conducted and Lexical-gustatory is currently the rarest form of synesthesia. According to Psyblog, it affects approximately only 0.2 percent of the population. However, scientists estimate that there may be 50 to 150 forms of synesthesia.

Basically, two or more of my senses are crossed inside of my brain, which allows me to experience very specific and consistent tastes that I associate with different words. For me, many names and words have tastes, but some do not. An interesting part of this is that the majority of tastes are never the same for any two people with this form of synesthesia.

For example, the word “mind” tastes like strawberry Laffy Taffy, and the name Rachel tastes like gingerbread cookies. After getting past the initial unfamiliarity and weirdness, most of my friends just think that it’s cool and interesting. I was so irrationally worried about a negative reaction, because I didn’t actually think I was able to taste words. I thought it was a trick of the imagination that no one else would fall for.

It seems like a strange connection; relating a complex neurological phenomenon to simply embracing every part of who you are. But if the first person who ever experienced this and said something about it never spoke up, we wouldn’t have known to begin conducting research and studies. We have opportunities every day to learn from each other’s differences, to grow from others’ experiences and to add to our collective knowledge of the human race.

It sounds crazy, I know. But you never know what you could learn about yourself if you were completely open to every possibility. Do not tune out what makes you unique. Don’t push aside a characteristic that could actually be an asset to your brilliance in fear of sounding a little ridiculous.

Collegian Columnist Haleigh McGill can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter at @HaleighMcGill