Why does number 12 wear a dress?

I’ve been reading the Oliver Sacks book “Musicophilia” and it has a very in-depth chapter on synesthesia. As you may recall, synesthesia is a neurological condition where input from the senses gets “cross wired” in the brain — people taste colors, see noises etc.

He also discusses “conceptual forms of synesthesia.” This is a condition where a person associates ideas with sensory input — they might say something like “Wednesday is a yellow day.” In a footnote, Sacks discusses that people may see days of the week as male or female, or as having certain personalities.

As I mentioned in a blog post many months ago (in the old blog format), I, as a child, associated numbers and letters with gender. 1, 3, 7, 8 and 9 were male; 2, 4, 5 and 6 were female. I even had a fairly convoluted series of familial relationships between the numbers. 1 and 2 were married, and 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 were their children (I think I’ve got that right — it’s been awhile since I’ve thought about this stuff.) Determining the gender of numbers 10 and above was kind of weird. Numbers 10 through 19 followed the same pattern as the first set e.g. 11 was male, 12 was female (they were married as well) 13 was male, 14 was female etc. But once you got into numbers from 20 onward, gender was basically determined by the first number. So all the 20s were female, all the 30s male, all the 5000s female etc.

And don’t even get me started on the alphabet — A and B were married, though in a comfortable, non-passionate sort of way.

Reading this Sacks book reminds me that I also had gender and personality assigned to days of the week. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were female and matronly, bossy and submissive, in that order. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday were male with their own personalities. Curiously, I think I had a sense of Wednesday as being kind of asexual, possibly female.

Assigning gender to days of the week, as I did, appears to be a classic case of conceptual synesthesia. What can I conclude from the fact that I experienced at least a minor form of this condition? Clearly synethestes are an advanced species of human, superior to the common rabble. I daresay we should be worshiped by the average man, and the reigns of government and society should be turned over to us, to be handled as we see fit. Non-synesthetes, such as most of my readers, should consider their life fulfilled if only for having spent some time basking in my presence.

(I hear Johnny Depp is a synesthete.)

One final note: I think we all assign some traits of gender and personality to most physical objects we encounter. I’m looking at a book right now, and I think of it as being male (probably because of the rectangular shape and hard edges) but not aggressive (probably because of the intellectual nature of books.) I look at a round jar originally containing Trader Joe’s sesame ginger which I now use to collect pennies, and I think of it as female (because of the roundness) and matronly (for reasons that escape me.) We do this unconsciously, but once you realize it, it’s difficult to not notice that you’re doing it.

1 Response to “Why does number 12 wear a dress?”


  1. And the fork ran away with the spoon at My So-Called Penis

    [...] an earlier blog post, I rambled on incoherently about the idea of conceptual synesthesia. This is the idea that certain [...]