Lexical-gustatories involuntarily “taste” words when they hear them, or even try to recall them, [Julia Simner, a cognitive neuropsychologist and synaesthesia expert at the University of Edinburgh] wrote in a study, “Words on the Tip of the Tongue,” published in the issue of Nature dated Thursday. She has found only 10 such people in Europe and the United States.
Magnetic-resonance imaging indicates that they are not faking, she said. The correct words light up the taste regions of their brains. Also, when given a surprise test a year later, they taste the same foods on hearing the words again.
(Synaesthetes are hardly ever described as “suffering from” the syndrome, because their doubled perceptions excite envy in many of us mere sensual Muggles.)
It can be unpleasant, however. One subject, Dr. Simner said, hates driving, because the road signs flood his mouth with everything from pistachio ice cream to ear wax.
And Dr. Simner has yet to figure out any logical pattern.
For example, the word “mince” makes one subject taste mincemeat, but so do rhymes like “prince.” Words with a soft “g,” as in “roger” or “edge,” make him taste sausage. But another subject, hearing “castanets,” tastes tuna fish. Another can taste only proper names: John is his cornbread, William his potatoes.
They cannot explain the links, she said. There is no Proustian madeleine moment — the flavors are just there.
But all have had the condition since childhood, so chocolate is commonly tasted, while olives and gin are not.
That’s the strangest thing I’ve heard in a while. (I wonder what “Languagehat” tastes like?)