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What Do Words Taste Like?

by Elizabeth Ryan 

Tags: Science and Technology, food, taste, synaesthesia, Gary Busey, Amelia Fedo, neuroscience, brain science, words, maisonneuve, Elizabeth Ryan,

maisonneuve-coverFor most of us, Gary Busey brings to mind big teeth and smaller roles in movies like “Black Sheep” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” But for Amelia Fedo, the actor’s name floods her mouth with tastes of cranberry and string cheese.

According to maisonneuve, “Fedo has lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, a rare condition that causes units of speech to trigger involuntary sensations of taste.” This explains why she has such a potent reaction to Mr. Busey and other proper nouns—bringing new meaning to the old idiom about leaving a bad taste in one’s mouth. But Fedo’s experience is just one type of the neurological condition:

Neuroscientists have identified more than one hundred synaesthetic variations, and the sensory combinations appear infinite. In the most common, called grapheme-color synaesthesia, numbers and letters are transformed into brilliant colors (Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman claimed to encounter equations as “light-tan j’s, slightly violet-bluish n’s, and dark brown x’s”). With sound-color synaesthesia (or chromesthesia), certain sounds—a doorbell, a barking dog, a guitar chord—elicit powerful visual episodes. Other synaesthetes see their orgasms. Some can hear fabrics, taste shapes, and smell their pain.

Despite what must surely be an inconvenience, Fedo takes great care to use specific descriptions for what she is hearing…err, tasting. Here's a sampling of her flavored names:

Roy: unseasoned kidney beans straight from the can

Derek: raw fennel cut into flat slices, with hints of cucumber

Vivian: vinyl records, coarse nylon or denim, with a faint hint of perfume

Danielle: the rind around the edge of a bologna slice

And she’ll taste your name too, if you like.

Source: maisonneuve