Numbers with Special Meanings

For those of you who’ve ever wondered why Chinese kids snicker up their sleeves when you say “250,” this post will illuminate the numerous numerical euphemisms in Chinese. You’ll also see why phone numbers with a lot of 8s are more expensive than phone numbers chock-full of 4s.

Acoustic Puns

These are all based on xiéyīn 谐音 (homonyms) or at least similar-sounding words (see also the New Year’s pun bank).

4 ~ sǐ = death

8 ~ fā = good luck / get rich (from fācái 发财)

88 bā bā 八八 ~ bye bye*

886 bā bā liù ~ bye bye lo () / bye bye le ()**

520 wǔ èr líng 五二零 ~ wǒ ài nǐ 我爱你 = I love you

9 roses = eternal love

Explanation: 9 jiǔ ~ jiǔ = long time

*I always wondered why they don’t use 800 bā bǎi, which sounds EXACTLY like “buh bye” if said quickly. I guess they prefer 2 digits.

**Guangdong Province only?

More Number Idioms

These don’t seem to come from acoustic similarities to other words.

3/8 sān bā 三八 (March 8th) = Stupid/foolish woman

March 8 is International Women’s Day (Fùnǚjié 妇女节). I’m not sure where the negative connotations came from. Maybe it has some connection to bāguà 八卦 (gossip)?

250 èr bǎi wǔ 二百五 = stupid

According to this, it’s because 250 is half a “jīn” (500 grams), so it means “half brain.”

Bus #11 e.g. “Take bus #11” dā shíyì lù chē 搭一路车 = to walk somewhere

The two 1s are supposed to be your legs. I’ve also heard this called yāo yāo lù 幺幺路.

211 college/degree = a good college or a degree from a reputable college

I first saw this on some QQ thing where a girl was saying she wanted a boyfriend who had a “211 degree.” This comes from the “211 Project” (211 gōngchéng 工程). See Wikipedia for more.

Written

182 ~ = reunion (from 团结 tuán jié)

I’ve seen someone write this out, but I can’t seem to imagine it here on the computer screen. You write the 1 and 2 somehow to make the two sides of the box and the 8 is supposed to be that filler material somehow. If anyone has a scan or something of this that might help. Otherwise, forget this one.

Anyone have any other number slang to add to this list? It seems like 1314 and 168 are supposed to mean something but I can’t remember what.

Comments

  1. Great post – I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. (And I thought I was the only one to have thought that ‘800’ would be much better!)

    And in the same light as Ingo’s comments, I’m also curious about the 126 in ‘126.com’.

  2. On the rude side: 3180 = an impolite name for a man.. i have seen this written, the 3 () and 1 (a vertical line) come together to become , then the eight () and the zero looks like an egg.

    I have seen 八八六 even in the North as well

  3. 大羽,
    Do you know why “liu” = “luck”? Is it xieyin from some Chinese word or from the English “luck”?

    Also, what parts of China does “er” = stupid. I’ve never heard it (which doesn’t mean anything actually).

    博文,
    Oh good! Another written one. I find those to be so much work to understand (and remember). I still can’t imagine the one again.

  4. Oh and I forgot to say: very interesting about all the website meanings. Does every Chinese person just instinctively know what they mean or do they need to be explained?

  5. what about 500 wǔ bǎi? When you say two people are stupid you can say nǐmen liǎ jiā yǐqǐ wǔ bǎi. You two are stupid (250 + 250 = 500)

    jiā = plus (in math)

    If someone calls you 250 can say nǐ shì wǔ bǎi. Your twice as stupid.

    😀

  6. @ Andy

    I agree with you that 56.com means 无聊 wú liáo.

    56’s homonyms is 无聊。

    @ Albert

    I search the websites, there are two different explanations about “” means “good luck and thing goes smoothly”

    1. In 《易经》, the content include ancient Chinese divination and cosmological beliefs.In this book, the author believe “”is a good number.

    I don’t know 《易经》at all, so I can’t explain more detail of it.

    2. “顺溜” literally means “smooth”, ’s homonyms is “liu”
    In “一路顺风(good and safe trip on your way to somewhere”, “lu” have the same pronunciation of “lu”. In Chinese, 6 can be written as 六, and when you fill up the sheet about Bank or Finance, will be written as “”.
    —>
    —->
    —–>
    —–>
    —–>
    —–》陆
    —–>
    —–>
    ——>
    ——>

    Albert, would you pls correct my English, then others can read it more clearly.

  7. @ Albert

    Sometimes we can instinctly know what does it mean. But sometimes we can’t, additional explanation is prefered. But when we get the explanation, we can remember that more easily.

    for example: http://www.56.com
    I instinctly think that means I’m Luck (5 means wo 6 means Luck)

    But after I read Andy’s explanation, I would prefer his opinion.

    56 is the homonyms of 无聊wú liáo Boring” since it is a video sharing webstie and can make Bored person get more and more unboring.

    But when Chinese read 4 or 8, I believe most people will instinctly think “Die” or “get rich”

    ——————

    @ Albert

    In northen China, especially in Shandong province,TianJin, Beijing area, ””have the meaning of “idiot, stupid, foolish”

  8. @大羽,
    Your English is fine! We’re all learning here. I think we can usually understand what you’re saying no problem. Very interesting about 顺溜 as one possible source for “liu” meaning “luck.” Also very interesting about the little mnemonic device for remembering the digits of pi. Is that common for children in school to use that as a memory aid?

    Hobbes,
    Great phone number! We’ll all call to congratulate you 🙂

    Hellen,
    Thanks for the insult 😉 I’ve added it to the MDBG dictionary (it should show up tomorrow).

  9. The best phone number ever is:
    098585858, where 8 stands for money (“ba” is close to “fa” , i.e 發財 = get rich) and 5 stands for I (as mentioned above, sounds like ).

    Everytime they say this phone number, they’re proclaiming “I’m rich! I’m rich!! I’m rich!!!”

  10. what are different meanings of “13”?
    it’s an insult.
    i have heard it’s because it sounds like “shi shang” (时尚 fashion) and “zhuang 13” is a fake/poser, but i’ve also heard it’s because 1 and 3 together look like a “B” as in “zhuangbi” (装屄 or 装逼 fucking poser etc)

    can someone familiar with use of slang “13” tell me what it’s generally associated with and understood as, and possible origin?
    谢谢!

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