Color me weird?

Throughout my life I have often had the thought, “Hey, what if the color I perceive as blue is actually the color green for you?  We’d have no idea how to figure that out!  How weird would it be to see all the color inversions?”  While I’ve had that talk with many friends, I only mentioned my colors to a few. 

In my head letters and numbers always have colors.  It didn’t occur to me it wasn’t like this for everybody until my early twenties when I mentioned it to my then boyfriend who said I was weird.  This is, apparently, weird to everybody in my circle except for my friend, Judy.  She told me she also has strong letter/number color associations.  One crazy had become two and we felt extra special.  Then she discovered a book, A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.  It deals with a girl who has what is called synesthesia, a “perceptual experience” involving, among other things, color associations.  Suddenly, Judy and I had a name for our weirdness.

There are many components of synesthesia and you can read about them on Wikipedia for starters.  Basically wires are crossed in the brain, which causes a person to see/taste/smell colors, see shapes and colors during auditory stimulation and attribute personalities to inanimate objects. Sadly, I don’t do anything rad like taste colors or sounds, but I’ve got a few of these quirks. 

For instance, here is what the alphabet looks like in my head:


It’s tough to get the colors just right, but basically when I think of those letters that’s how they look. S sometimes has green stripes and Z has white stripes.  J is sometimes more orange, etc.  Letters can be different colors, but there are rules.  Purple or blue are acceptable colors for H, but never black. 

When letters are combined into words sometimes the colors change because the word overall has a particular color to me. The word ‘green’, for instance, should look (according to my alphabet), like this:

Green 1

But it’s not. Those letters combined look something like this:

Green 2

Those are the colors for the word green, but the overall color for the word green is, well, green (unimaginative, I know).  The word ‘mango’ has an overall red-orange color, but the arranged letters look like this:


It’s very hard to describe, and actually seeing the colors on my screen like this kind of screws me up as I try to explain what kind of crazy goes on in my head.

Numbers can be a toss up.  Just as combinations of letters make for different color patterns, numbers are all kinds of tie-dye weirdness. Not kidding, beyond being a girl, this is probably why I’m bad at math.  Usually:


Just about the only thing that is absolutely standard with numbers for me are what color decades are.


There are a lot of shades, swirls, stripes, fades between colors, whiter 1’s and silvery zeros, but that’s the basic idea. 

As far as letter/number personas go, I don’t have all that quite figured out.  Q is passive aggressive and possibly British, R is feminine and very nice, S has almost always been a cut-throat type of guy. H is arrogant, A is happy, I is a baby, U doesn’t practice good hygiene.  I didn’t even realize I had personas for my letters/numbers until I read that it was a factor with Synesthsia.  Suddenly, I thought, “Oh, yeah.  I guess I’ve always thought 2 was friendly and 9 was a bitch.” (Seriously, look at 9.  You can just tell.)

I don’t know if thinking this way results from early childhood education and an imagination or if I’ve really got synesthesia.  Maybe I see H as pinkish because in Kindergarten the little blow up Mr. H balloon doll had a pink H on his chest.  Then I remember that Mr. B’s B was blue, but B is hardly ever blue to me unless it’s in the word blue.   Maybe when I was learning my numbers the classroom had colorful cut-outs hung on the walls and that’s why I associate colors with numbers.

On the other hand, a lot of my own evidence points to at least a slight condition. There are the colors.  When I think about decades or months I often see them as a horizontal, scrolling time line, very much like how iTunes will present albums one at a time in a rotation with the non-highlighted albums being smaller and far away.  This sort of spatial imaging coincides with number form synesthesia, as described in the Wikipedia article.  Synestetes sometimes have trouble with reading, languages and math because the colors are distracting or stop making sense (how does 2+2, or brown+brown = blue?).  I read slowly, botched my way through three language courses and married someone who can multiply three digit numbers in his head so I don’t have to.

Surely every classroom had colorful letters at one time, but clearly not everyone has such associations.  There’s at least a little something weird going on with me, but I’m ever so happy to be able to share it with someone.  Judy and I often chat about our colors.  I like to find out what colors things are/should be to her. Her decades are colored accordingly:

“20s: silvery blue, 30s: red, 40s: dark blue, 50s: yellow, 60s: purple (with hints of pink, not a dark purple), 70s: orange (lighter orange, more like a yellow orange), 80s: red (the 30s and 80s are the only ones that have the same color), 90s: blue-green.”

This is what fascinates me about our possible (probable?) synesthesia.  Thinking about the 90’s being blue-green feels inherently wrong to me.  They’re clearly fuschia.  And there’s no way the 50’s are yellow.  That’s ridiculous.

6 Responses to “Color me weird?”
  1. Lauren says:

    I find it interesting that your color for the 80s is blue and not hot pink, or neon. Feels wrong. : )

  2. rosemaryvandeuren says:

    This is interesting! I have definitely thought before about how there’s no way to measure how same colors might be perceived differently to different people (since you can’t borrow anyone else’s eyes to fund out!), but hadn’t read about the phenomenon of synesthesia. Cool article!

  3. Emily Mattison says:

    I know that I see colors a little bit different from other people due to my boyfriend telling me (along with a few other people) that my car is blue and I see periwinkle. I did not however, no that this exists. That is really cool to me actually, and it may explain why I have had students absolutely freak if I try to get them to write words in different colors. Thanks for sharing this tid bit of info Lindsey!

  4. Emily Mattison says:

    I feel the need to fix my post and it won’t let me delete it :(…”I did not however, KNOW (not no) that this exists” Whew….I feel better now hahaha.

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