What Is It Called When You Can “Taste” A Word Or “See” A Sound?


Every so often, an oddball phrase or sentence trends on Google search, such as: “Can blind people see the taste of cinnamon toast crunch?”

This is a fascinating, serious question disguised in buffoonery. A more apropos question seems to be: Is it possible to “see” the taste of a cereal? Or better yet: Is it possible to see a taste? Or taste a word?

This answer is yes, sort of. An involuntary neurological condition called synesthesia, which is also spelled synaesthesia, describes a version of this experience. A synesthete is someone who automatically activates a second sensory pathway once a first is stimulated. The word derives from two Greek words that mean “together” and “sensation.”

A common form of this condition has to do with letters and numbers. It is called color-graphemic synesthesia. This is how it works: A synesthete consistently “sees” letters or numbers as a specific color. For some, this perception happens in their mind’s eye, while for others, it is projected externally.

When a writer describes one sense by using words that describe a different sense, “the trumpet solo soundslike  lime green jello,” for example, this is also known as synesthesia, but it is in fact a figure of speech, or a trope. Let’s return to the brain disorder.

There are over sixty types of synesthesia and it seems to run in families. Also, a number of external stimuli can cause the condition, such as blindness, a stroke, or — no surprise here —psychedelic drugs.

So, what does this have to do with cinnamon toast crunch? Well, in one of the condition’s rarest forms, gustatory synesthesia, words can actually evoke tastes, seemingly making it possible to taste a word.

Now that you’ve learned a word for this unusual mental experience, what do you call the state when you are neither completely asleep nor completely awake? We have an answer for you, here.

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