Last year, I made an interesting personal discovery. I was hanging out with a group of friends, chatting about stupid things that everybody does, but nobody talks about. You know, like imagining a race between raindrops 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, obviously universal habit: where you think of letters and numbers as having fixed genders and personalities. After I had shared, my friends all just looked at me. Their collective reaction amounted to: “Wait, what?”
That night, I did some Googling, and figured out that I’m not the only weirdo who does this — although, admittedly, it is a relatively small club. I experience a type of synesthesia called ordinal linguistic personification (OLP). 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. We don’t really know a lot about it yet, or synesthesia in general, for that matter). We don’t know why it happens or if it’s genetic. Apparently, 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 that my brother also has OLP without grapheme-color synesthesia — just like me.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve associated a specific gender and personality with number, and some letters. Specifically, the numbers 1–11 have the strongest personas, and numbers higher than that are just combinations of these ‘core’ personas. For instance, since the number 143 is made up of three numbers that I’ve designated as male — 1, 4, and 3 — it is also a male number. Letters have personas too, but they’re weaker. If you ask me about certain letters, 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. I’m actually unusually horrible at math. A psychology 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 can get confusing for people like me.
Are you really good at other things, then?
Not as far as I can tell. Look, I want this to be a superpower 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 my real-life friends’ personas sometimes resemble a number’s, not everyone’s personality “fits” into a number persona. For example: I consider myself a 6, but I strive to be a 9. (Feel free to cross-reference this against my personality descriptions for numbers 1–11 at the end of this article!) 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 and feeling about numbers the exact same way as I do now. As long as I have known numbers, this is how I’ve understood them.
Are there 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 my list of numerically-associated personality descriptions below, and let me know if you see anything interesting.
Here’s my own 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.
1is 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 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 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 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 is a boring old dude. He’s been at his office job for like 35 years but never really made it anywhere and is pretty grumpy about it.
6is 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 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 is a mom. She’s stable, plump, even-tempered, caring, and generally happy. She and 2 are besties.
9 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 is… just kind of there, actually. Relatively genderless (leaning toward femme), 10 doesn’t have a whole lot going on. They’re round and don’t really say anything. I don’t know why.
11 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.