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Keith Tse


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Meaning of numbers (4)- Cantonese vulgarisms

There are two numbers which are held to be vulgar (and hence impropitious) in modern Cantonese- seven 7 七 (chat) and nine 9 九 (gau), which correspond to two very rude words in modern Cantonese, namely 柒 (chat, different tone) and 鳩 (gau, different tone), which literally mean ‘crap’ and ‘prick’ respectively. As you can imagine, I hate these two words, and as a result I hate seeing any permutations of the numbers seven 7 and nine 9. It is interesting to see, however, how these two numbers surround the number eight 8, which is an extremely powerful number in our folklore. The adjacency between seven 7, eight 8 and nine 9 reminds me somewhat of life, since we often live through cycles of prosperity and bad fortune in succession. It also makes me think that the margins between success and failure can be very small, since the juxtaposition between good fortune (e.g. 8) and danger (e.g. 7, 9) shows just how easy it is to fall into the trap of misfortune and that one really has to be very cautious in order to avoid it, a bit like Scylla and Charybdis. It is funny to see these numerical patterns in our language/culture. Looks like our numbers really are playing up. Beware.

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