April 20, 2006

today, on a very special episode of "lack of style"...

This may turn out to be the most interesting post on this blog.

Ever since I can remember, I have associated letters with genders. What? you ask. Well, I have always seemed to just "know" that A is a girl, and B is a girl, and C is a boy, and D is a boy, and E is a boy, and F is a girl...

... I never thought I was crazy or anything for having such an association until I shared it with other people. It's not something I go around telling other people, but it has on a few occasions come up in conversation. It's sort of my "special thing" (besides being able to handwrite cursive backwards with my left hand, and I'm right-handed, but that's a story for another post). But when I tell someone else they seem totally perplexed, whereas for me it just seems so natural, if inexplicable.

Inexplicable until now. Ah, the wonders of the internet, where I can type into the search box "genders of letters" and find a possible reason for my particular, um, eccentricity. What it seems I have is a form of synethesia. Synethesia, in its extreme and most-pronounced form, is when someone, say, smells spaghetti sauce in the air and it triggers them visually seeing some color in front them. Or when a certain musical note is heard, they feel cold and think of the color blue. Or associating a number with a color, always having the same link.

With me, it could potentially be some sort of cultural influence, but when I think of letters (and even numbers, to a certain threshold - though it's not as strong an association - it sort of wanes after I hit 20), I think of genders. And not just cut and dry female or male - I sense their levels of masculinity or femininity, and even certain other personality traits such as being shy, or being bitchy.

To give more detail, when I'm reading words on a page, I don't get bogged down by each letter's (or number's) gender. It's only when contemplating letters individually that the perception comes to the surface.

Not too long ago I was sharing this all with Erik, and he kept asking me what a different letter, or number represented. "Yes, X is a boy. P is still a girl. F is a girl also. 3 is a boy. I don't know why!" Combinations of letters don't seem to do anything for me. The word "boy" (B is a girl, O is a boy, and Y is a girl) isn't feminine to me because it has mainly feminine letters.

There's also no association for Roman Numerals. The number 6 (six), in my perception, is male. However, the Roman numeral "VI" gives off no maleness. Indeed, looking at "VI" looks a bit feminine, abstractly I suppose (though not intrinsically), taking into account that both "V" and "I" are female letters.

Then he was trying to figure out if it was somehow associated with the shape of a letter or number. Not really. The letter A is full of straight lines and is female. The letter T is also straight, and it is male. B (a female) has some curviness within her (heh), but so does C, and he's all boy. Oh, but then A and B both have sectioned-off areas, A having the one middle triangle, and B having the two enclosed semi-circles. But R and D have those two, and they're both male. And to top it off, a letter doesn't change it's gender just because it's been switched to lowercase. H and h are both female, as are Q and q both male.

Perhaps the association came from how I was taught the alphabet. I vaguely remember my kindergarten class having one of those letters banners across the wall associating letters with colorful objects. An apple for A, for example, a boy for B, a dog for D... But I can't really think of why I would associate an apple with girliness. It doesn't seem to have any sort of sex to it at all. Boy seems male, obviously, and a dog could be male or female.

My favorite idea is that actually, when you break all the letters or numbers down into M (male) and F (female) - say, for 0 and 1 - that when you transfer all the letters of some bit of prose, for example, the binary translation would equate into some sort of Galactic Encyclopedia that answers all the questions of the universe. Just like pi in Carl Sagan's Contact. I can't tell you how roll-ey Erik's eyes got when I mentioned that idea.

Unfortunately no, I think it was just some, perhaps, chemically-induced cross-wiring that allowed me to commit the alphabet to memory more quickly, and that wiring never faded away. In my teen years, when I needed to think I was special, I would often think of my "ability" to have such associative "powers". I thought it likened me to geniuses. I thought it made me like Einstein. Other synesthetes are capable of utilizing their sensory quirks for fun stuff, like memorizing the first 500 decimal places of pi or something, but I really have no use for it. It's just some bizarre little factoid about me to bring up in low spots in conversation, or when my ego needs to be stroked.

Don't be afraid to test me on it. I love proving myself. Below is a key you can jot down to test me at random times. I dare ya.

A=Girl, B=Girl, C=Boy, D=Boy, E=Boy, F=Girl,
G=Boy, H=Girl, I=Girl, J=Girl, K=Girl, L=Girl,
M=Boy, N=Boy, O=Boy, P=Girl, Q=Boy, R=Boy,
S=Boy, T=Boy, U=Boy, V=Girl, W=Boy, X=Boy,
Y=Girl, Z=Boy. 0=Boy, 1=Girl, 2=Boy, 3=Boy,
4=Girl, 5=Boy, 6=Boy, 7=Girl, 8=Girl, 9=Boy.

posted by julie at April 20, 2006 09:23 PM

things people have said

My friend Sam sees letters and words in color. He has synesthesia as well. His mom and sister have it too, but none of them have the same "color chart" for the alphabet. Trippy, huh?

so said: brandy at April 20, 2006 10:39 PM

It's true. The repeatability of Julie's, ah, eccentricity, is astounding!

so said: Erik at April 20, 2006 10:42 PM

I always wondered if there were other people out there like me who associated letters with genders. It would actually be even MORE freaky if all of our associations matched. That would beg the question: Is there something to it?

Yeah, probably not.

so said: julie at April 20, 2006 10:46 PM

yep. i have colors for numbers and letters. probably because i had those number and letter magnets when i was little. and as a result of having colors for letters, i have colors for pitches. but only because of the association with letter names, not because of the actual frequencies (though at this point, it's all inseparable). and then words (like the days of the week) become colored because of the first letter..... we must be weird. but at least we're extra-cool. ;)

so said: erin at April 21, 2006 11:33 AM

OK. I find this absolutely fascinating. And you're right, Julie - this was not only interesting, but gripping as well. It was so gripping, in fact, that I've spent the last several minutes staring at your letters/numbers and trying to detect a reason, pattern, familiarity, anything.

N o t h i n g.

so said: Sheryl at April 21, 2006 10:24 PM

you and I had a conversation about this a really long time ago ... I also associate genders to letters, but mine are slightly different to yours, for instance, to me B is a boy. I remember thinking we must be the only two crazy people who think this way, and how weird it would be if the genders we perceived the letters to have were the same!

so said: Rachel at April 24, 2006 03:07 PM