How Arguing with my Boss Revealed my Synesthesia

Twenty years ago at a New York City tabloid, there was no way to explain that words have colors.

Black & white and read all over

Getting the headline right at a New York City tabloid was no trivial matter. Headlines sold newspapers and this was a newspaper at war, not just on breaking news but on the strength of the front page headline. Would it be the right tone? Was it accurate and witty? And ultimately, would it be better than what would be on Page 1 of the New York Post?

What color is that word?

Here’s an example of how my Synesthesia interfered: I was designing the front page the night a man had been murdered. The editors wanted to say “KILLED”. But that word has a lot of i’s and e’s. In my head, vowels have especially dominating colors, and i’s are white and e’s are yellow.

Vowels have the strongest and most dominating colors, and can “define” an entire word.
To me, the word “killed” has a lot of light colors, like white, light blue and yellow.
Murdered” is darker and more menacing than the bright optimism of “killed.” At least the word “slain” has a piercing red stripe in the middle, like a bloody knife.

Did my boss think I was just messing with him?

My boss and I would disagree over headlines a lot. I still remember a shouting match with him over the page design for an investigative piece. The headline was typed out in black on the screen, but I was adamant that the words looked wrong.

This went on for five years…

My work on the news desk continued and I contributed to covering some of the biggest stories in recent history. Between 1997 and 2002, President Clinton was the subject of a special counsel, admitted to having an affair with an intern, and was ultimately impeached. The Yankees were on top of the world, winning three World Series, and major players like Derek Jeter were just starting out. Major figures like John Gotti and Frank Sinatra died. Former First Lady Hillary Clinton was elected to the US Senate, and the Bush-Gore 2000 elections were a level of crazy that I had never seen before. We were the paper of record for the events of 9/11.

I still have the clipping that my boss left for me.
You can see any word visualized in color at the Synesthesia.Me site.

Artist, designer and creator of the Synesthesia.Me project. What color is your name?

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