The Synesthete’s Alphabet

Much has been made of Daniel Tammet, the “Brain Man” who could recite Pi to 22,000 places. How the savant achieved this feat was by picturing the digits that make up Pi’s infinite and complex string of numbers. The condition facilitating this monumental task is called synesthesia, where the mind unconsciously blends together two different sensations. In this case, it is grapheme-color synesthesia that causes his mental picture of a number (or letter) to appear as more than just an abstract numeral, as it would on a page. Instead he perceives it to have a great deal of unique, identifying characteristics. To a non-synesthete, 3 is just 3, but to him, “every number up to 10,000… has its own color, has its own shape, has its own texture.”

“For example, 289 is an ugly number, I don’t like it much.” And he’s got a point. Yellow, inky-blue and reddish-pink? Yeck, what an ugly color combination!

Though my degree of grapheme-color synesthesia is nowhere near as profound as the Brain Man’s, I’ll share the colors I associate with the letters of the alphabet, as well as the numbers 0 through 9.

A B C

D E F G  H   I
J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

That X should really have a black outline.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

I’m still not sure if 1 is white for its purity, or black for its simplicity. I get a feeling it’s white only when beside zero, to represent Yin and Yang, night and day, on and off.

Wikipedia suggests that the letter-color associations are manifest through some easy mnemonic device, and my experience seems to bear that out: B is blue, G is green, V is a pink vulva, W is the color of wheat, R is red). It certainly helps letters stand out, though it can make it difficult to separate my A’s from my N’s from my 7’s.

(And for those sharp-eyed readers, you’ll notice the three predominant colors of my site match the letters that make up my name. That’s what I call synergy!)

By Tim

An animator, video producer, Lego artist, and author—I am moderately skilled at a lot of different things.

13 replies on “The Synesthete’s Alphabet”

Wow, Tim, this is a great peek into your mind! I guess I never knew you associated colors with letters and numbers, but I never asked either. I think that’s great that the colors of your blog spell out your name. I think of the numerals as having sexes (9 is femme fatale, etc). -M.

Now I’ve never considered numerals as having a gender, so that’s new to me! Regarding the colors, I like how L M and N just all go together, and my choosing the website colors… totally subconscious. I guess it’s like they say: still waters run deep.

I’m sure Laurel’s come across this sort of thing with her dabbling in Neuroscience and all. We should corner her and ask, “what up wit all dat?”

Wow–this is really interesting. I’ve never even heard of this. So, these colors are different for everyone who thinks like this? Or can one chose to think like this? I’m aware of certain letters and numbers feeling a certain way to me, but I think I’m less aware of this type of subtle recognition since I started doing most of my writing with a computer. Every letter looks largely the same to me. Do you think using a computer often encourages, discourages or has no effect on this kind of thinking?

I heard a great NPR article about this. What fascinated me was that there is a type of synesthesia in which sounds create colors, shapes and textures in peoples minds. Even tastes and smells. One performance actually played notes to a person with synesthesia, who described the visual interperetations he or she was seeing at the time the note was played. With this information, a graphic artist created an animation which corresponded to a piece of original work. It was then projected onto a screen while that music was being performed. An “average” person could then see into the world of someone with synesthesia, or at least appreciate the difference in viewpoint. Neat!!

In answer to your question Pete, I’m no expert but since grade school I’ve felt the letters have had the same colors, so the association seems pretty indelible. It is more about the way the letter ‘feels’ than the way it looks, so I doubt reading too much will dull that connection.

I don’t know if these assiciations can be trained; like you say, it’s just kind of a subtle feeling. I can’t fully explain where they come from myself!

Interesting stuff. I just “googled” upon this page, because I was searching for “associate genders letters of the alphabet.” For as long as I can remember, I have associated a gender with each letter of the alphabet, and each numeral, up to 9 and then repeating, based on the last digit. For those who relate, or are curious, I’ll share:

A: Female
B: Male
C: M
D: M
E: M
F: M
G: F
H: M
I: M
J: M
K: F
L: M
M: M
N: M
O: M
P: M
Q: F
R: F
S: F
T: M
U: M
V: F
W: M
X: F
Y: M
Z: M

0: M
1: M
2: M
3: M
4: F
5: M
6: F
7: M
8: F
9: F

I suspect this is commonplace, but I have yet to meet anyone else (at least that I’ve discussed this with) who shares this association.

Like the post above me, I stumble upon this page from google. Recently a coworker mentioned that she was reading about Daniel Tammet and I brought up that I, in fact, associate genders with letters and numbers. Interestingly enough, mine seem to be very different than the associations above.

F=Female, M=Male, m=younger male (possibly prepubescent), A= Asexual

A- F
B- M
C- m
D- M
E- M
F- A
G-M
H-F
I-m
J-M
K-M
L-A
M-F
N-F
O-m
P-M
Q-M
R-M
S-F
T-M
U-m
V-M
W-M
X-m
Y-A
Z-F

1-A
2-F
3-M
4-M
5-M
6-m
7-F
8-M
9-M
0-m

Wow, now we’ve got gender-neutral characters, too. Since English doesn’t use the feminine/masculine article for words (except when referring to ships, countries, or hypothetical D&D players), I had failed to notice that a lot of other languages, such as Spanish and French, have masculine and feminine words, while others like German even have gender-neutral words!

Maybe this masculine/feminine association is more widespread than I thought?

I too stumbled here from google as I have recently written down 0-10 and A-Z with what gender I associated with them (as I have always mentally associated the gender with a specific letter or number). I believe that this definitely is widespread. It would be interesting what causes the association and why we, as English speakers, think this way. Anyway… it would also be interesting to see how we, the ‘letter/number gender associators’ would conclude a final deduction for combinations of numbers and as well as combinations of letters. I have noticed that with the two postings and mine also, Masculine figures heavily outweigh the feminine, and A-Sexual figures. Here are my results for comparisons:
m – Masculine f – Feminine

0m
1m
2m
3m
4f
5f
6f
7m
8m
9f

Af
Bm
Cm
Dm
Em
Fm
Gm
Hm
Im
Jf
Kf
Lm
Mf
Nf
Om
Pf
Qm
Rm
Sf
Tm
Um
Vf
Wf
Xm
Yf
Zm

Here are my numbers:

1m
2f
3f
4m
5m
6f
7m
8f
9f
0m
and it goes on for every number.

Am
Bf
Cm
Dm
Em
Fm
Gf
Hm
I?
Jm
Km
Lm
Mm
Nm
Om
Pm
Qm
Rf
Sf
Tm
Um
V?
Wm
Xm
Yf
Z?

I always thought that I was weird when I was little cause I related my letters to gender and my numbers. My mom and I were talking about it today and I never even knew that so many people were the exact same way.

M- male , F- female

A- F
B- M
C- M
D- M
E- F
F- M
G- F
H- F
I- M
J- M
K- M
L- F
M- M
N- M
O- M
P- F
Q- M
R- M
S- F
T- M
U- M
V- F
W- M
X- M
Y- F
Z- M

1- neither male or female
2- M
3- F
4- F
5- M
6- M
7- F
8- M
9- F

I am 15 and whenever I explain this to people they have no clue what I’m talking about. I’ve done it since I learned the alphabet and numbers and I’m amazed by it.

i have this. all letters and numbers have a gender. most have a personality, and some of a colour. and as soon i looked at your J, all i could think is that it was wrong. i don’t have an exact colour pinned down for it, but it is definitely not that light purple colour. 🙂
it’s interesting how each person has their own differences in what the letter is, and yet there are some similar too.

Comments are closed.