The Weight of Words

By Arielle Corsetti

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized that something about me wasn’t exactly normal.

There has always been a part of me that has adored words and wordplay. As an English major and Creative Writing minor, this kind of comes with the territory; words are what we use to build and fashion stories and ideas. There’s something dauntingly beautiful about the fact that we can use language to create such incredible and powerful things. For me, my love of words has stretched until it’s become a multi-axial academic project over the last year, spanning across anthropology, philosophy, and psychology–I’ve been intent on finding an inherent meaning behind language, trying to understand the universal truth behind language. Because of course they have a meaning beyond their definition, don’t they?

This is when I began to understand that the way I saw the world was different.

I remember talking to one of my friends last spring about the inherent meaning of language, after he had asked why I used so many repeating words in my poetry and novels.

“Well,” I said, “those ones have a really nice taste to them.”

“Words don’t taste,” he told me blankly, raising an eyebrow.

“Of course they do. That’s why I use the same ones again and again. The taste of them works really well together…”

It was at this point that I began to realize that perhaps, this wasn’t the case for everyone. And that was when I started doing some research on what was going on inside my skull.

Synesthesia isn’t the most well known neurological condition. Nobody is truly sure how many people have it, because they are so many kinds, and because it’s so difficult to test quantifiably. Having synesthesia allows a person to perceive the world a little bit differently. For most of us, our senses are autonomous; our hearing doesn’t affect our sense of sight, nor does our sense of taste interfere with how we read numbers or listen to music. Having synesthesia blends everything together, so that the lines between senses are blurred – synesthesia literally translates to “a union of the senses.” A person with synesthesia might associate different letters with colours, or sounds with numbers.

For me in particular, my brain associates words with more than the meaning behind the word – every word, every sound, has a taste and a feel and a weight that is unique. My specific synesthetic interpretation is called lexical-gustatory – an ugly kind of phrase. It’s apparently one of the rarest kinds of synesthesia.

It has nothing to do with the definition of the word. The word apple doesn’t taste like an apple to me, but instead has a sour, heavy flavor to it. (I don’t know why, but words with p-syllables in them seem to be more sour). Every syllable has its own taste, none of which I can truly translate to something you could understand. The closest approximation I can come to are sweet, heavy, rust, crisp, and sour.

There are words that I return to over and over again, because of the way they taste to me. Hollow causes a shiver down my spine because it’s sweet and heavy; iron is dark and delicious, viscera is sharp and almost bitter, like a high note. When I say the word cathedral I can taste metal and salt.

I’ve tasted words for my entire life, and it’s beautiful. When I read a story or write a poem, the words blend together into a harmony of sensations that are more than the meaning of the book, but the feel and the play of the words themselves. When I speak, the words lay heavy and tangled on my tongue, bright lines of metaphor and meaning that create a wonderful kind of net that I can break apart and rebuild to make something new. Every book I read feels enhanced for me, because every book tastes different and delightful, rich and bursting full, arcing neurons that connect in uncanny ways and radiate through my entire mind.

I don’t know why my brain works like this. I don’t know if I love words because they mean so much to me, or they mean this to me because I’ve always loved them. But this is how I read and write and live my life, tasting words and feeling them in a way that most people don’t. The world inside my head is a symphony, every moment, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.