Robert Cormack in Communications and journalism, Teachers, Creative and Media Professionals Creative Director • Robert Cormack & Associates 6 d ago · 4 min read · 2.9K

Do Your Words Taste Good?

A gourmand's guide (sort of).

Do Your Words Taste Good?

Bad taste creates more millionaires than good taste.” Charles Bukowski

This is going to sound weird, but some humans can taste words. I say “some” because I’m not one of them. My taste buds couldn’t tell a word from a wombat. I’ve never tasted wombat and I’m pretty sure I’ve never tasted words. I wouldn’t even know what they taste like. Corn flakes, probably.

If they taste like corn flakes, I might have licked one without realizing. I’m sure it doesn’t make me a synesthete. That’s what you call someone who can tell a good-tasting word from a bad one.

The actual term is synesthesia, a neurological condition where senses are joined that aren’t usually connected. Numbers have colours. Musical notes and words have flavour. You could call it a sixth sense, and pretty important if you hate scrambling all over the place, trying to find the right turn of phrase.

If you’re a true synesthete, all you do is taste the stupid thing.

I mean, think of all the starving artists out there, most not even realizing their words, or brush strokes, or piano chords, are driving their taste buds crazy.

Crazy stuff, right? I mean, think of all the starving artists out there, most not even realizing their words, or brush strokes, or piano chords, are driving their taste buds crazy.

Charles Bukowski was always drawing analogies with food. When he finished a good day’s work, he felt he’d eaten a full meal. He’d light a cigar, pour some wine, and pat his stomach. Of course he was full. He’d been eating words.

He once described in a short story how Camus’ writing reminded him of a man sitting down to a good steak. In a way, he was circling around this whole synesthesia idea without knowing it (no doubt Camus was in the same boat).

Another synesthete was Jerry Garcia, guitarist and songwriter for The Grateful Dead. Unlike many artists of the time, Garcia knew he had synesthesia. He explained to Rolling Stone once that he could taste notes.

Consuming notes, and tasting each one, kept Garcia busy. Some of his longer solos must have felt like gorging. A pretty healthy way to gorge, if you ask me.

Garcia had an addictive personality, indulging in psychedelics, heroin — any number of drugs — but his biggest craving was music. It consumed him, and his catalogue proved it. In addition to thirteen Dead studio albums, nine contemporary live albums and six solo albums, he can also be heard on 50 side projects, including Ornette Coleman’s Virgin Beauty.

Consuming notes, and tasting each one, kept Garcia busy. Some of his longer solos must have felt like gorging. A pretty healthy way to gorge, if you ask me.

Then there’s Charlie Parker’s excessive consumption. He couldn’t stop himself, whether it was food, music or heroin. Every note he played reminded him of eating, and every shot of heroin heightened his sense of taste.

It probably worked the same for many jazz artists. In every composition or recording, they reached that sense of fullness. It was profound and kept them addicts and possibly synesthetes.

Ray Bradbury once said he could look in the mirror and feel happy. “Why am I so happy?” he asked. Maybe he was a synesthete, too. When he wrote, he felt satisfied by something, possibly the aroma of his words. Writers often mention a heightened sense of smell when they work.

We can’t tell a good-tasting word from a bad one. How do we avoid tasteless platitudes and colloquialisms? How do we become, well, gourmands?

Anyway, that’s a good cross section of synesthetes. What about the rest of us? We can’t tell a good-tasting word from a bad one. How do we avoid tasteless platitudes and colloquialisms? How do we become, well, gourmands?

The simple answer is, we don’t. We can’t fake gourmandism. We could stick to the same words Bukowski and Bradbury used, but it’s as much the order as the words themselves. It’s like a piece of meat. We can all cook it, but some make art, some make charcoal.

Our only hope is to follow a culinary approach to writing, what I refer to as the Gourmand’s Guide (sort of). Here, you’ll understand how guys like Bukowski chose his mouth-watering words, and how it led to all those cigars and wine.

I just write stuff like this and hope I don’t offend entire nations.

It might help, it might not. I’m not making any promises.

I’m not a synesthete.

I just write stuff like this and hope I don’t offend entire nations.

“That shackjob was the best wide-assed bitch I’ve ever laid.”

Bukowski obviously didn’t worry about offending anyone, least of all wide-assed bitches. That’s what his 10,000 tastebuds told him to write, so he did, and the book, “Post Office,” sold millions of copies. It also created a lot of wide-assed bitches who lost all self-esteem reading Bukowski.

“White foam gushed out of the wound. It sizzled and bubbled.”

Synesthetes don’t hold back on their descriptives. They’d rather offend the hell out of you than have a “leisurely meal overlooking a sunset-drenched bay.” Nobody cares about sunset-drenched bays. Those words taste like granola. Even I can figure that out — and I don’t know shit.

“She grabbed my cock and leaned against me. My first redhead.”

Short staccato sentences are like old telegrams. Everything’s there in a few short sentences. Obviously, you need the right words. Notice Bukowski doesn’t add any flourishes? At the end of this sentence he writes “I was lucky.” That surprised me. It surprised a lot of people. I was married to a redhead. It ain’t lucky. You’ll never feel lucky again.

“I had my own teeth but not many.”

We always worry our descriptions—especially personal ones—will be too long (they will be). Bukowksi didn’t mind talking about wearing his dead father’s overcoat or scissoring his own beard, but he basically kept it short. The quote above speaks volumes. He also threw in that his socks didn’t match. Didn’t help, but sometimes, as he used to say, “You have to pee in the sink.”

“She kissed me back like a lonely woman.”

As simple as this sentence sounds, the use of the word “lonely woman” makes it realistic and sad at the same time. It’s not quite “Jesus wept,” but it’s pretty darned close. No doubt those wide-assed bitches with low self-esteem appreciated Bukowski writing about them.

“I saw him coming at me like a dart at a dartboard.”

I’m sure most metaphors and similes taste terrible to synesthetes, but Bukowski made this a good piece of action. Never dwell on action. Anything that happens fast should be described fast. That’s probably why his sex scenes were so short (he usually gave up and quit). Count the times he says “I hit him.” I think it’s around forty in “Barfly” (Factotum) alone.

“The riots ended, the baby calmed down, but the dizzy spells persisted.”

Bukowksi never seems to be looking for sympathy. Instead of pulling heartstrings, I’m sure he’d say, tighten the collar, make them gasp. You’re far better off developing a sense of shock. Even if you don’t know what shock tastes like, it can’t be good. It probably tastes like a bad burrito.

All we can do is hope we’re not up against a bunch of synesthetes laughing right now at how terrible our words taste.

Needless to say, I’ve only skimmed the surface. Synesthesia isn’t an easy topic. Neither is Bukowski or Bradbury or Camus (don’t get me started on Jerry Garcia). These synesthetes had an advantage. They knew a good-tasting word. All we can do is hope we’re not up against a bunch of synesthetes laughing right now at how terrible our words taste.

It’s not like most readers can tell. They aren’t synesthetes, either.

We can fake it, in other words. We’ll just say we’re synesthetes. Who’s going to tell us we aren’t? Synesthetes? They wouldn’t dare. They’d have to admit they’ve been tasting words for years. They’re word-lickers.

I don’t know if that’s an insult or not.

Anyway, they’re word-lickers.

Robert Cormack is a satirist, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)”is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Skyhorse Press or Simon and Schuster for more details.




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Robert Cormack 5 d ago · #6

#3 I find drinking water helps.

+1 +1
Robert Cormack 5 d ago · #5

Yeh, my colour-blindness really skewed up my trip to Amsterdam#4

+1 +1
Ken Boddie 5 d ago · #4

It’s a pity, Robert, that lexical-gustatory synesthesia is not contagious. It would then be much easier for us to get our politicians to eat their words. As for graphene-colour synesthesia, I distinctly remember experiencing this as a young fella, while looking for a specific address in the red light district of Amsterdam. 🤔

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John Rylance 6 d ago · #3

Burp!! Pass me the indigestion tablets I'm feeling very bloated after tasting all these delicious words. Food for thought indeed. Thank you.

+1 +1
Robert Cormack 6 d ago · #2

No meatballs#1

+2 +2
Kevin Baker 6 d ago · #1

That is awesome. Just like subway. Eat fresh @Robert Cormack

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