Fun with Ordinal Linguistic Personification

AKA: I have number friends.

Last year, I made an interesting personal discovery. I was hanging out with a group of friends, and we were chatting about stupid things that everybody does, but nobody talks about. You know — like imagining a race between rain drops running down your car window, or brushing your teeth for an absurdly long time when someone else is brushing theirs next to you. So I brought up another funny, universal habit: the one where you think of letters and numbers as having fixed gender and personality. My friends all just looked at me. “Wait, what?” was the universal sentiment.

That night, I did some googling, and figured out that I’m not the only weirdo who does this, although it is a relatively small club. I experience a type of synesthesia called ordinal linguistic personification. Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

Ordinal-linguistic personification (OLP, or personification for short) is a form of synesthesia in which ordered sequences, such as ordinal numbers, days, months and letters are associated with personalities and/or genders.

OLP is pretty understudied. They don’t really know a lot about it yet (or synesthesia in general, for that matter). They don’t know why it happens or if it’s genetic. Apparently though, it’s often accompanied by grapheme-color synesthesia, which is when you associate numbers and letters with colors. Out of curiosity, I surveyed my family members. It turns out my brother has OLP without grapheme-color synesthesia — just like me.

In my experience, OLP means that as long as I can remember, I’ve associated a specific gender and personality with numbers, and some letters. Specifically, numbers 1–11 have the strongest personas, and numbers higher than that are just combinations of those ‘core’ personas. For instance, since the number 143 is made up of three male numbers — 1, 4, and 3 — it is also a male number. Letters have personas too, but they’re less strong. If you ask me to describe them, I have to think about it a little longer, and quite a few letters I’ll just describe as being kind of wishy-washy.

People tend to have a lot of questions when I describe my OLP to them. Here are some answers to my favorite FAQ’s:

Does this mean you’re like, really really good at math? No. Actually, I’m unusually horrible at math. A psych major friend of mine told me that some scientists think OLP might actually interfere with learning math, since the way we’re taught math in school typically doesn’t take into account made-up number personas, and it just gets confusing.

Are you really good at other things, then? Not as far as I can tell. Look, I want this to be a super power as much as you do, but so far it seems like OLP is just a good excuse for my bad math grades.

What number am I? This is tough! Each number has a very specific personality for me, and although sometimes my real-life friends resemble a number, not everyone’s personality “fits” into a number persona. For example: I consider myself a 6, but I strive to be a 9. An ex-partner of mine was a 4 on his good days and a 3 on his bad days. My brother is a solid 11. And despite those examples, the numbers aren’t ‘ordered’ in terms of how much I like them — I personally would way rather be friends with a 2 than a 7. 7’s are shady af.

Do the personas change over time? No, I don’t think so. For me, the personas feel innate — like, I remember being in Kindergarten and thinking about numbers the exact same way I do now. As long as I have known numbers, this is how I’ve understood them.

Any patterns? Odd numbers seem to have, on average, more negative characteristics. Besides that, I don’t really see any patterns. But feel free to check out the list below and let me know if you see anything interesting.

Just for kicks, here’s a list of personality descriptions for numbers 1–11. Feel free to psychoanalyze me by judging my number personas, or pull up this article and quiz me the next time you see me in person.

  1. One is a stereotype. Male, strong, a leader. Full of himself, but reliable. Despite these ‘good qualities,’ he’s kind of annoying. Think Jack from LOST. Like, yeah, he’s a good guy who saves the day, but nobody actually likes him.
  2. Two is a lovely, balanced lady. Down-to-earth, fair, wise, mature, independent. She reminds me of my high school art teacher, and my dear friend Helen.
  3. Three is sensitive, cold, and calculating. He’s smart as hell and he knows it. He’s not that cute, and he’s kind of a pessimist. He’s a science major at a prestigious university and he’s definitely sad.
  4. Four is a warm, even-tempered, puppy-dog kind of guy. A labrador, if you will. He likes being outdoors and gives really good hugs. He recycles and rides bikes, but isn’t all up in your face about it.
  5. Five is a boring old dude. Not to body shame, but he’s definitely overweight. He’s been at his office job for like 35 years but never really made it anywhere and is pretty grumpy about it.
  6. Six is a young woman, out there trying to figure things out. She’s feminine, smart, tough, and determined. She wants to be a 9 when she grows up.
  7. Seven is shady. On his good days, he’s just a lanky nerd. On his bad days, he’s that skinny white guy lurking in the corner of your high school who may or may not be plotting murder.
  8. Eight is a mom. She’s stable, plump, even-tempered, caring, and generally happy. She and 2 are besties.
  9. Nine is a badass. She’s tough as nails and smart as hell. She dresses in all black and enjoys intimidating her enemies. Nine is #goals.
  10. Ten is… just kind of there, actually. Relatively genderless (leaning femme), ten doesn’t have a whole lot going on. They’re round and don’t really say anything. I don’t know why.
  11. Eleven is a lanky, goofy, quiet, relatively clueless dude. He’s basically an 11 year old boy but taller.

Now you know all about my weird ass brain! If you experience something similar, please comment — I’d love to get to know your number friends.