The meaning of numbers can be different across cultures. The meanings could be auspicious or ominous. The thing that should be considered is that some numbers that are considered unlucky in some countries are lucky in other countries.
But what are numbers?
Natural numbers are symbols or units that are part of a calculating and counting system. A number also stands for a position or amount in a series. Number is different from numerals. A numeral is a representation of a number. A numeral system was invented by the Egyptians, which was improved by the Greeks. The Romans created the Roman numerals, using the Roman alphabet. In the late 14th century, the Hindu–Arabic numeral system became the most common system used around the world to represent the numbers. It is considered the most effective because of the symbol ”zero.” Moreover, you can write the numbers in numeral, such as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or words, like six, seven, eight, nine and ten.
Giving Notice to Numbers
Many people take numbers for granted because they have always been there. However, for several cultures, the meaning of numbers follows age-old traditions and cultural beliefs.
Global business owners have to understand the meaning of numbers and number associations so they can create better marketing strategies. These associations often come from traditions and beliefs passed down through the years. You might have your website translated, localized your marketing collaterals and made changes to your product branding so they are adapted to local culture. But you also have to see to it that you do not forget the numbers since they can make a great impact that you might not have thought possible.
When you have materials translated into other languages or your website localized, numerical conventions and measurements, including phone numbers, addresses, dates and time are covered in the localization process. But some difficulties can arise when the association of the numbers comes from superstitions, religion or mythology. The level of
difficulty rises when you consider that some of the numbers may have favorable meanings in some countries but may not be encouraging to other nations.
Meaning of Numbers in Other Cultures
Different cultures around the world have varied beliefs, some due to religion and some due to traditional beliefs. They attach different meanings to many objects, colors, images and numbers. It’s fascinating to learn how other cultures attach specific meaning of numbers. There are numbers they need to avoid and numbers that are auspicious to them. Let’s see what they are.
The number 4
The Chinese consider the number four an unlucky number since its Chinese pronunciation sounds like the Chinese term for ”death.” Therefore, buildings in China do not have a fourth floor, well, not physically, but in the buildings’ elevators, number 4 is not included. Instead, they use the letter F. The same belief is true in Japan and South Korea, and other Asian countries where Chinese is spoken.
But the belief is not applicable to Germany where the number is considered lucky, because it is associated with the ”four-leaf clover” which is a symbol for luck.
The number 9
The sound of the number 9 in Japan is very similar to the Japanese term for ”torture.” It’s avoided because it is considered an unlucky number. Airlines and hospitals in Japan avoid the number for this reason.
However, in China, it is a lucky number as it’s considered as the emperor’s number. Norwegians consider it a sacred number because its folklore contains many stories with the number 9.
The number 13
In many countries around the world, including developed countries such as Norway, Sweden and the UK, the number 13 is considered an unlucky number. Did you know that the fear or avoidance of the number 13 is called triskaidekaphobia?
Skeptical Inquirer magazine paranormal investigator and senior research fellow Joe Nickell said that the number 13 is odd (queer or peculiar). Many believe that number 12 is a complete number, relating it to the zodiac signs and the apostles. Number association might be the reason why many cultures try to avoid number 13.
The Mayan calendar ended with the 13th Baktun, which was believed to bring the apocalypse in 2012. Tall buildings use different methods to name the 13th floor. The fear extends to manufacturers and companies. People avoid having 13 guests to their party or event and Friday the 13th for many is very unlucky.
There is no accepted proof that the number 13 is unlucky, but it remains a sign of bad luck due to traditional beliefs. For example, in The Last Supper, the 12 apostles were gathered around Jesus, thus there were 13 people around the table. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. The members of the Knights Templar were ordered arrested by King Philip IV of France on October 13, 1307, which fell on a Friday. A year with 13 full moons was considered unlucky, simply because the monks who were in charge of organizing the calendar and the religious festivals had to rearrange everything.
However, other countries and organizations are not wary of this number.
· The Italians consider it a lucky number, as it is associated with Saint Anthony, who is the patron saint of finding lost people and things.
· Colgate University in Hamilton, New York significantly honors number 13 as the university was founded by 13 men with a capital of $13. The school has 13 articles and 13 prayers.
· The United States was formed from the 13 British colonies in the mainland. The U.S. flag has 13 stripes – 7 red stripes and 6 white stripes. The Great Seal of the United States has 13 stars. The chest shield in front of the eagle has 13 stripes. The eagle’s left talon holds 13 arrows (Weapons of War) with 13 olive leaves and 13 olives on its right talon. The scroll of the national motto “E Pluribus Unum” that the eagle holds in its beak has 13 letters. At the back of the seal, an unfinished pyramid with 13 levels is shown.
A baker’s dozen is actually made up of 13 pieces.
The number 17
Italians believe that 17 is an unlucky number. It’s because 17 is written in Roman numeral as XVII. When you rearrange them you will arrive at VIXI, which is a Latin term for ”I Lived.” The phrase is often used in tombstones.
The number 26
Indians would try anything to avoid the number 26, which they consider as a very unlucky number. You see, so many tragic incidences occurred on that particular date,
such as terrorist attacks, tsunami and earthquakes, which make Indians want to obliterate the date.
The number 39
In Afghanistan, the number 39 is viewed as unlucky because it sounds similar to ”morda-gow” that translates to ”dead cow” in the local language.
The number 666
In Christian countries, the number 666 is considered ominous because it represents the beast (Antichrist) mentioned in the Bible’s Book of Revelations. Fear of the number 666 is called Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.
Phone number 0888 888 888
Many people want to have specific phone numbers and go to great lengths to acquire them. However, Bulgarians would rather not get it. They believe it is a phone number that is very unlucky or even cursed. Some notable people who had this phone number perished, which is the main reason why Bulgarians do not want to have this number even if it is quite easy to remember.
As many people say, there are two sides in a story. So, if there were some unlucky numbers, there would be auspicious ones.
The number 3
Most people believe in the adage that “all good things come in threes.” This is particularly true in Sweden, where people consider the 3 as a very lucky number. It is considered as the luckiest number in Korea. The association is different to what the people in Sweden believe. In Korea, the number three symbolizes control over ground and heaven because 1 represents the sky while 2 represents the earth. So adding the two numbers produces 3.
Italians associate the number 3 with balance and strength, which is represented by a triangle.
However, the Japanese and the Vietnamese avoid taking photos if there are only 3 people because of an old superstition that death will come to whoever is in the middle of the photo.
The number 7
In countries like Japan and China, the favorability of a number usually comes from the way it is pronounced or how it sounded in the local language. But in Korea, a number is considered lucky because of its concept. For example, 7 means lucky, which is why it is used frequently in the gambling areas in the country.
In most western countries, such as the Netherlands, France, United States and the United Kingdom, 7 is a lucky number as well. They associate it with the 7 planets, 7 wonders (ancient world), 7 deadly sins and God needing only 7 days to create the entire universe.
But in countries that came under Chinese influence such as Thailand and Vietnam, the number 7 is an unlucky number. It’s because it represents the month of July, which is the time people pay respect to their dead relatives. People in these countries offer food items and various fruits in the hope that they would not be haunted by the dead.
The number 8
Many religions around the world, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Taoism consider 8 an auspicious number. Chinese people are particularly fond of the number 8. The number translates to bā, which sounds like the Chinese word fā, which means to generate wealth. The association of the number 8 with wealth is very strong in China that properties with the number 8 are considered highly valuable possessions. In Hong Kong for example, someone paid $640,000 for a plate number that had the particular number. Here’s another solid example – the August 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing officially started at 08:08:08 local time.
The number 8 is also considered lucky in Japan, where it is called ya or hachi. The association with luck is in the formation for the word in Japanese characters, which gives off the idea of getting wealthy because the shape of the letter – 八- gradually broadens.
Would you believe that that phone number whose digits are all in the number 8, which is considered unlucky Bulgaria, is considered very lucky in China? In fact, Sichuan Airlines paid ¥2.33 million to have that number.
The number 666
If the meaning of number 666 in Christian countries evokes fear, this particular number is lucky for others. For the Chinese the number 666 is considered to bring good fortune because it means everything goes smoothly. Many Chinese want to have 666 in their phone numbers or license plates and are willing to pay more just to have them.
These are just a few of the many meaning of numbers across different cultures, which marketers should know. This is very important when your company has to interact with different consumers. Beliefs and superstitions play a big part in the psyche of global consumers, so it would be detrimental to your global success if you ignore the meaning of numbers when localizing your website content, product information and other marketing materials.
Make your marketing methods culturally appropriate Get in touch with Day Translations, Inc. if you need a language services provider that has a full grasp of the complex process of localization. When you want to make your marketing strategy effective and appropriate to your local target markets, you only have to call 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at Contact us. We are experts in localization, working only with native speaking subject matter experts who live in-country. Call us anytime as we are open around-the-clock every day of the week, 365 days of the year.