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Experience: I see words as colours | Life and style | The Guardian


Experience: I see words as colours

I see every letter and number in its own unique hue. I can tell someone the colour of
their name instantly
Lix Buxton
Friday 19 August 2016 14.00BST

was 30 and a mature student in art college when I rst realised I saw the alphabet in
glorious technicolour. I was building a 3D calendar (three wooden cubes telling the
day, date and month) when my tutor asked why I had painted the six blue. Because
thats what six is, I told her.

I think of my grapheme-colour synesthesia as a curiosity, rather than a condition. I see

every letter and number in its own unique hue and, when they are combined into words,
every word makes a colour that is equally unique to my mind. Experts say it is a blending
of the senses; to do with the way signals in the brain are processed.
But it is impossible to recognise that you have it until you realise others dont; it was not
until that odd moment in the art studio that I started to question whether a rainbow
alphabet was the norm.
After the conversation with my tutor, I started to talk to people about it, but they didnt
understand and I soon stopped because they clearly thought it was nonsense.
Synesthesia of one sense or another is estimated to aect up to 0.5% of the population
and can present itself through taste or hearing music, too.
I can tell someone the colour of their name instantly. Processing words is like mixing
paints on a palette: C is white, D is beige, E is yellow and so on. They have never changed
or recongured.
It was my youngest daughter, Jenny, who was most intrigued by it. She found it magical
as a child. As an adult, I remember buying her narcissus owers because they were the
same yellow as her name.
My other daughter, Katie, is a metallic blue-black and my son Mikes shade is just a bit
lighter they both have a K, an I and an E. My husband, Bob, is brick red.
When Jenny told me the names of my granddaughters, each time it was their colours I
saw rst: Lila is white; Ava, her little sister, is green.
I also have a degree of spatial synesthesia, which means that days of the week, months,
years, follow a pattern in my head; a sort-of curve. If you ask me what 10 years looks
like, I will immediately zoom out from a week, like a camera lens.
The associations are involuntary but, in many ways, they are rather like having

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Experience: I see words as colours | Life and style | The Guardian


particularly pleasant muzak on in the background the colours are always there. As a
furniture designer, it did not have a tremendous bearing on my trade. But in daily life,
words sing out to me everywhere I go. Advertising hoardings, road signs and posters are
all brighter and louder to me. If I zoomed in and allowed myself to see every single
colour, it would be overwhelming.
I read the papers every day and about four novels a month, so it certainly hasnt
distracted from my enjoyment of the written word. If anything, it enhances it. The
Guardian, incidentally, is a mixture of pinky-beige and green.
Synesthesia is not a denite science. I remember reading someone elses story in a book,
thinking their colours were dierent from mine. Each synesthete experiences their own
personal colour spectrum.
Even now, at 65, it sometimes surprises me. My friend and I are writing a book and weve
had to Google a lot of things: new words mean new colours.
I cant imagine what it must feel like not to have it, except that it must be rather boring.
In some ways I wish Id known earlier, but I was brought up in the 1950s when parents
were inside the house and children played at the bottom of the garden, so no one sat
down with me and asked why Id chosen the colours I had when I did a painting.
I have heard that it is possible to train people to see the world in this way and that it
might help with dementia. But it hasnt aected my memory. In fact, Bob will ask me
someones name and I will say to him, I cant remember, but I know its green.
There is nothing dull or grey in my spectrum. I like the colours that I have created, but
that blue number six is still my favourite. That one has always made me smile.

As told to Deborah Linton

Do you have an experience to share? Email experience@theguardian.com

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