Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously

In 1985, a competition was hosted by Stanford University where people took a sentence Noam Chomsky had created as an example of something syntactically correct, but semantically nonsensical, and used it as the last line of a poem or short story. This sentence was “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” I decided to create an entry (longer than was permitted for the competition) and see what would happen. For a more general understanding of Chomsky and this work, check out this background information and the sources it cites. Have an idea for your own? Want to play by the rules? Share below.

She saw things differently, but you could say that about anybody. She saw sounds and heard colors and tastes and felt everything. Doctors told her she had synesthesia, kids told her she was weird and her mother told her she was blessed. It wasn’t hard for her to get used to this kind of perception; it was all she had ever known. Despite that, explaining herself was almost too frustrating to bear.

As a young girl, she would show off, telling her family that ambulance sirens were bright red and the dogs barked maroon as they watched it pass from the window. Brown cinnamon rolls covered in white frosting sounded to her like a cello playing soothing major chords, and the smell of them felt warm on her skin. Her mother supported her, telling her never to be ashamed of her view of the world.

She started in art classes early, drawing and painting things in the colors they sounded or smelled like to her. She experienced colors in all five senses as time went on. In fact, as that developed, some of her other perceptions began to fade. At the same time, she began to personify colors, realizing that each of them had a personality to attend to. All through grade school and high school she loved her perception. Her friends found it fascinating, and her teachers encouraged her to explain herself in even more different ways.

One art class was all it took to change her.

Art school was what she had looked forward to for her entire life. It was a place where she and the colors that in some ways had become her friends could work together undisturbed and uninhibited. That was until she arrived in her first class. The professor turned to each student and asked them how they perceived the world. She waited anxiously for her turn to arrive, and when it did, the words flooded from her mouth in an enthusiastic rush. She detailed the personalities of colors and how they sounded and smelled. She talked about the feeling of color and how it permeated almost everything in the room. She told the professor that he was a marvelous shade of deep purple, and he cut off her explanation.

“That’s enough. Please refrain from that kind of nonsense in my classroom in the future,” he said simply.

She froze, mortified and burning with the orange curiosity beaming onto her skin from her classmates’ eyes. The rest of the class period passed by in a gray silence for her, and as soon as she could leave, she ran across the campus to her apartment. The hot pick slam of her door caused her roommate to come running upstairs. He asked her what was wrong, and she tried to explain what had happened without color.

“But that’s who you are,” he told her.

She told him she didn’t want to talk anymore, but when he left, she called her mother up to tell her about the deep purple professor. Her mother’s voice came through the phone in a soothing sky blue as she said that his opinion was irrelevant. After the phone call, she found she felt no better than she had before. He had sucked the colors out of her. Everything looked gray and sounded like a distant fog horn and felt cold to the touch. He was the first man ever to correct her perception, to challenge her identity.

That night, she stared at her ceiling in bed, dreading returning to class the next day.

          Maybe I can just be normal, she thought to herself, tears welling in her eyes. Just like everybody else.

Hours passed, and she was still awake. Suddenly, she realized she wasn’t going to change how she saw the world for one purple man. He had no power to make her do that. The sadness she had felt was replaced with defiance, and a smile spread across her face as what had previously been a gray ceiling lit up a beautiful green image of her putting that professor in his place, not as an education, but as a person dealing with people. Suddenly, she couldn’t wait to go back and confront him.

She closed her eyes, still restless, but with a newfound joy in it. As she drifted to sleep, she could think only one thing:

          Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.


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