I saw a quote that read as

"understanding you is like smelling the colour 9"

what does it mean?

As it suggests it may mean finding something or someone hard to understand but why it's called smelling the colour 9?

What's the origin of this saying?

A descriptive information will be highly appreciated.


Since the number 9 has no intrinsic colour, and colours have no intrinsic smell, the phrase "smelling the colour 9" is a category error. In other words, the intent conveyed is that the phrase is not easy (or it is impossible) to understand. There is a condition called synesthesia, but it is not a good fit in this context.

The simile draws the parallel to understanding someone, so the sentence means that the speaker doesn't understand the person he or she is speaking to.

  • 1
    I immediately thought of "synesthesia" when I smelt the tone of your tasty answer. :) – Deepak Dec 6 '15 at 16:21
  • The peculiar phrasing of the statement indicates much more than the fact that the speaker doesn't understand who he's speaking to - it suggests that no one could understand this person, and any attempt to do so is an exercise in futility. – Nuclear Wang Jan 16 '18 at 21:16
  • @NuclearWang The OP's quote sounds like an interpersonal interaction. Even saying that 'no one could understand him/her' would likely be an expression of the speaker's personal frustration at him/her. – Lawrence Jan 17 '18 at 0:41

Christian musician Chris Rice wrote a song (and album) entitled "Smell the Color 9". I'm not sure if it was just meant to be a silly song, or if it actually had some underlying (most likely Christian spiritual) meaning. You can google the lyrics and try to figure that out. But yeah, I'm pretty sure that's where the phrase "Smell the Color 9" originated.

  • Chris Rice actually answers the OP in the last lines of his lyrics: "Sometimes finding You is like trying to smell the color 9. 9's not a color and even if it were you can't smell a color. That's my point exactly" His lyric also says "he count count up pretty high" In other words, it's an incomprehensible task: like counting (holding, seeing or having) infinity. – Steven the Easily Amused Feb 10 at 19:22

The number nine is often assiciated with eternity. See infinity of 9 on u-tube. Could be Chris Rice is only giving attention to behavior in light of human arrogance.

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