Tetraphobia

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An elevator control panel in a residential apartment building in Shanghai with floor numbers 4, 13 and 14 missing. Floor 4 is missing because of the very similar pronunciation of "four" and "death" in Mandarin Chinese. Floor 13 is missing for many reasons. Floor 14 is missing because 4 is included in 14. Note that there is a "negative first" floor.
Reading

(four)

(death)
Mandarin Chinese
Wu Chinese (Shanghainese) sy2 sy2,shi2
Cantonese sei3 sei2
Hakka si3 si4
Min Nan (Taiwanese Hokkien) sì,sù sí,sú
Japanese shi shi
Korean sa sa
Vietnamese tứ tử

Tetraphobia (from Greek τετράς - tetras, "four"[1] and φόβος - phobos, "fear"[2]) is the practice of avoiding instances of the number 4. It is a superstition most common in East Asian and Southeast Asian regions such as China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.[3]

Rationale[edit]

The Chinese word for four (, pinyin: sì, jyutping: sei3), sounds quite similar to the word for death (, pinyin: sǐ, jyutping: sei2), in many varieties of Chinese. Similarly, the Sino-Japanese, Sino-Korean, and Sino-Vietnamese words for four, shi (Japanese), sa (사, Korean) and tư (Vietnamese), sound similar or identical to death in each language (see Korean numerals, Japanese numerals, Vietnamese numerals).

Special care may be taken to avoid occurrences or reminders of the number 4 during festive holidays, or when a family member is sick. Similarly, 14, 24, 42, etc. are also to be avoided due to the presence of the digit 4 in these numbers. In these countries, these floor numbers are often skipped in buildings, ranging from hotels to offices to apartments, as well as hospitals. Table number 4, 14, 24, 42, etc. are also often left out in wedding dinners or other social gatherings in these countries. In many residential complexes, building block 4, 14, 24 etc. are either omitted or replaced with block 3A, 13A, and 23A.

In China[edit]

The Chinese government does not display tetraphobia by having military designations for People's Liberation Army with the number 4, for example, Dongfeng-4 ICBM, Type 094 Nuclear Submarine, Type 054A Frigate, etc. But the Taiwanese and the South Korean navies do not use the number 4 when assigning Pennant numbers to their ships.

In Hong Kong, some apartments such as Vision City[4] and The Arch[5] skip all the floors from 40 to 49. Immediately above 39/F is 50/F, leading many who are not aware of tetraphobia to believe that some floors are missing. Tetraphobia is not the main reason, but rather as an excuse to have apartments with 'higher' floors, thus increasing price, because higher floors in Hong Kong apartments are usually more expensive (see 39 Conduit Road). In Cantonese-speaking regions in China, 14 and 24 are considered more unlucky than the individual 4, since 14 sounds like "will certainly die" (實死) and 24 like "easy to die" (易死).

Where East Asian and Western cultures blend, such as in Hong Kong, it is possible in some buildings that both 13 and 14 are skipped as floor numbers along with all the other 4s.

When Beijing lost its bid to stage the 2000 Olympic Games, it was speculated that the reason China did not pursue a bid for the following 2004 Games was due to the unpopularity of the number 4 in China. Instead, the city waited another four years, and would eventually host the 2008 Olympic Games, the number eight being a lucky number in Chinese culture.

In Southeast Asia[edit]

Because of the significant population of Chinese in Southeast Asia, 4 is also considered to be unlucky.

In buildings of Malaysia and Singapore, where Chinese are significant in population with 25% of Malaysians and 75% of Singaporeans being Chinese, the floor number 4 is occasionally skipped.

Singaporean public transport operator SBS Transit has omitted the number plates for some of its buses whose numbers end with '4' due to this, so if a bus is registered as SBS***3*, SBS***4* will be omitted and the next bus to be registered will be SBS***5*. Note that this only applies to certain buses and not others and that the final asterisk is a checksum letter and not a number. Another Singaporean public transport operator SMRT has omitted the '4' as the first digit of the serial number of the train cars as well as the SMRT Buses NightRider services.

Like Hong Kong, buildings of Singapore also skip the number 13 as Singapore is also a place where Eastern and Western cultures blend.

The Grand Indonesia shopping centre in Jakarta replaced their 4th level with 3A.

In Korea[edit]

In Korea, tetraphobia is less extreme, but the floor number 4 is almost always skipped in hospitals and similar public buildings. In other buildings, the fourth floor is sometimes labelled "F" (Four) instead of "4" in elevators. Apartment numbers containing multiple occurrences of the number 4 (such as 404) are likely to be avoided to an extent that the value of the property is adversely affected. The national railroad, Korail, left out the locomotive number 4444 when numbering a locomotive class from 4401 upwards.

In Japan[edit]

Parking lots in Shizuoka with lot number 4 missing.

In Japan, many apartment houses and parking lots skip 4. Many hotels skip the 13th floor, similar to some western hotels. 9 is also skipped in some contexts, especially hospitals, due to the sound "ku" being associated with the word "kurushimu", to suffer. 49 is considered to be an especially unlucky number as it is evocative of the phrase "shinu made kurushimu" (ぬまでしむ?, "to suffer until death").

Other instances of tetraphobia[edit]

Nokia[edit]

The software platform Symbian, used by Finnish telecommunications firm Nokia in their Series 60 platform, avoids releases beginning with 4, as it did when it was EPOC and owned by Psion (there was no Psion Series 4, and there was no 4th edition of S60). This was done "as a polite gesture to Asian customers".[6][7] Similarly, Nokia did not release any products under the 4xxx series, although some of Nokia's other products do contain the number 4, such as the Series 40 platform, and the Nokia 3410.

SaskTel[edit]

When area code 306 was nearing exhaustion in 2011, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission originally proposed that the new area code be 474.[8] However, representatives from SaskTel requested that the new area code be 639 instead, to avoid the negative connotations of 4 in Asian cultures. 639 was subsequently approved as the new area code.[9]

Samsung phones[edit]

Starting from Q4 2008, Samsung Telecommunications faced tetraphobia in its new 5-character model numbering scheme and no longer uses model codes containing the number 4, as previously it did (SGH-A400, C140, D410, D840, E740, F480, X450, X640, SGH-T499Y...)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ τετράς, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  2. ^ φόβος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  3. ^ Havil, Julian (2007). Nonplussed: Mathematical Proof of Implausible Ideas (Hardcover). Princeton University Press. p. 153. ISBN 0-691-12056-0. 
  4. ^ Floor plan remarks of Vision City
  5. ^ Floor plan of The Arch
  6. ^ "S60 5th Edition and the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic are here! - S60 Blogs". Internet Archive. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  7. ^ Mahoney, Barrie (1 October 2012). Message in a Bottle. Twitters from the Atlantic. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 53. ISBN 1480031003. 
  8. ^ "ARCHIVED - Telecom Decision CRTC 2010-784". Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  9. ^ "639 to be Sask.'s 2nd area code - Saskatchewan - CBC News". CBC.ca. Retrieved 7 May 2014.