A few years ago decided I was going to write an article (which never happened). I went around asking my friends if they ever thought of numbers and letters as anything else or associated any non-communication traits with numbers and letters. I was trying to get at an answer without leading, but I usually ended up having to give an example: Since childhood I have associated gender with numbers and letters. I was trying to establish if this is a normal thing, and furthermore whether my genders were the common choices, or if other people think for example, ‘a’ (which is clearly female, but a slightly masculine female) is male.
I have notes from these conversations that I’ll try to find, interpret, and type up, but for now: I remember that a few people did vaguely associate genders with numbers/letters, but not everybody and not as strongly. Some people associated specific colors (a form of synesthesia). Others had whole elaborate back stories and personalities for each letter/number.
I was just thinking about this today while listening to the newest Radiolab. Oliver Sacks talks about personally relating to the inert “shy” gases (think: periodic table), specifically Xenon, as a child/young adult. The inert gases do have specific physical traits that make them “shy,” but my question still is, as it was in those past discussions, whether it’s a cultural and/or human thing to apply human characteristics (or relate personally) to inanimate or nonhuman objects (personification, anthropomorphism).
To me the traits of gender seem so innate to the letters/numbers that it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized that maybe that was just something my brain did and had nothing to do with the letters/numbers themselves. But why did my brain do that? Was it an unconscious mnemonic device? Maybe my associations have something to do with those letter flashcards from childhood: ‘d’ is for dog, ‘q’ is for queen. Or… some of the letters have obvious associations in my brain (‘e’ is for emily, ‘e’ is female; ‘r’ is for randall (my dad and brother), ‘r’ is male), so is that all it ever was?
Until I find my notes, here, at least, are my arbitrary associations:
a – female (slightly masculine sometimes), b – male, c – male, d – male, e – female, f – female, g – male, h – male, i – female, j – female, k – female, l – female, m – male, n – male, o – female, p – female, q – female, r – male, s – male, t – male, u – male, v – male (slightly feminine), w – male, x – male, y – female, z – could go either way
1 – either, 2 – female, 3 – male, 4 – female, 5 – male, 6 – female, 7 – female, 8 – male, 9 – female
[there are some patterns with vowels vs. consonants or even vs. odd numbers, but those aren’t consistent]
(past related post)