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10 Is a Boy, 6 Is a Girl: My Experience with Ordinal Linguistic Personification

Ever since I can remember, I’ve gendered numbers, letters, months of the year, and days of the week.

Yes, gendered.

And, on top of that, I see numbers and letters with different personalities.

9 is a man wearing a coat and tie. 2 is a woman. 3 is a teenage boy with lots to say. November is a mother figure who dresses in earth tones. Thursday is a boy, dressed in green, and is a great conversationalist.

I know what you’re thinking—what the fuck is she talking about? I’m talking about ordinal-linguistic personification (OLP for short), which is a type of synesthesia where people associate ordered sequences with different genders and personalities. Reasons behind how synesthesia develops are still being researched. However, many believe this phenomenon begins during childhood when abstract concepts are first introduced.

I have this, and until recently, I had no clue what it actually was.

In the past, friends have looked at me like I’m crazy after mentioning what I’m seeing and feeling. If I’m hand-writing a letter, and need to erase and rewrite a specific letter, my mind thinks about that letter’s personality and gender.

As a child, when a teacher held up a flashcard with math problems, I pictured the “1” with a blazer, bowtie, and microphone (he’s a comedian).

Now, realistically, I know that inanimate objects and ordered sequences do not actually have personalities. Like, I know that 5 can’t actually be a cab driver with a top hat, because 5 is not a person. This is just what I picture and see in my head.

After doing some research, I noticed that this actually occurs all the time: in fact, a lot of entertainers experience different forms of synesthesia. Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, and Kanye West associate music or sound with colors. Vladimir Nabokov (author of Lolita) said he experienced “colored hearing” and saw color in letters during his lifetime.

Although I don’t know too much about OLP, learning about this neurological phenomenon makes me realize I’m not completely delusional. I once tried explaining this to my brother, for example, and he could not even begin to grasp what I was talking about. Even today, I feel strange discussing this out loud. It’s almost reassuring to know there is some research out there to back me up.

I'm addicted to coffee and It's Always Sunny.
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