(NOTE: This article will refer to deep-fried string-cut potatoes as “French fries” even though the author knows that parts of the civilized world call them “chips.” Get over it.)
If there was ever a mysterious disease that needed a telethon, this is it. A girl in Edinburgh, Scotland, has decided to tell the world about her rare affliction which causes her to taste McDonald’s French fries when she hears the word “left.” She’s hoping to let others with the disease know that, while there’s no cure, medical experts are studying it and there are support groups to help deal with it.
"Most people think what I have is a bit mad, and I suppose it is, but it’s what’s makes me different and I like that."
Annie Bird is a 19-year-old Glasgow University student. She reveals in a recent interview that her first experience with sound-induced taste was at age one when her parents played a recording by the electronic band Lemon Jelly and she suddenly had a strong chemical taste in her mouth. She thought nothing of it (she was 1!) and assumed everyone had the same response to Lemon Jelly.
As she grew older, she found that the band Glass Animals made her taste chlorine and any band playing bongos induced the flavor of oranges. The word ‘judge’ brought on the flavor of stale bread while ‘music’ caused the taste of sweet toothpaste, ‘oblige’ sweet porridge and ‘left’ McDonald’s French fries. Odd noises also caused the flavors – the sound of a car on gravel gave her a fruity taste.
It wasn’t until six years ago that Annie discovered this strange affliction that none of her friends suffered from had a name: lexical-gustatory synesthesia. Synethesia (or synaethesia in places that eat chips instead of fries) is a psychological condition where stimulation of one sense leads to automatic and involuntary experiences in a second sense. A common example is a where number printed in black-and-white on paper appear as different colors depending on the denomination. In Anne’s case, hearing a sound stimulate the second sense of taste.
Annie’s research led her to an online questionnaire which confirmed that she lexical-gustatory synesthesia (the sound-taste kind) and grapheme-color synesthesia (the numbers-colors kind).
The condition has caused Annie some problems. When a lot of words trigger tastes, she suffers panic attacks from sensory overload. Even worse, some words can make her nauseous.
“Sometimes, when people are talking to me, I try not to wince or spit if they say certain words which taste horrible. It’s not a common word, but the color “puce” makes me taste rotten food, which is really disgusting.”
If you take their test and find you have some form of synesthesia, the University of Sussex Multisense Synaesthesia Laboratory is looking for subjects to research. There’s no cure but they can put you in contact with support groups like the UK Synaesthesia Association or the American Synethesia Association.
If you’re in the UK, you many run into Annie at one of the meetings. Just in case, don’t wear anything puce (dark red or purplish brown).