Numerophobia #2: What Numbers Do Different Cultures Fear or Revere?
In the previous chapter, I outlined the meaning of numerophobia and outlined some possible triggers for this strange phobia or paranoia. In this article, I will outline some numbers feared by various cultures in addition to the meaning behind those numbers. A cultural fear of a number like 13 can easily serve as a phobia trigger; a true numerophobia is an episodic fear complex in an individual, but the examination of taboo and sacred numbers provides interesting insights into various cultures.
China (Cantonese--Hong Kong)
Like many cultures, Chinese pick their unlucky and lucky numbers based upon which numbers phonetically approximate good or bad words. For example, the Cantonese word for "four" sounds very similar to the word for death. Both are pronounced "sei" (or "say"). In fact, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese cultures all share a similar opinion of the number four as a symbol of bad luck and death; it is appropriate that homophone number phobias are shared by languages with similar origin and geographic orientation. In this manner, 24, 73, and 84 are also considered unlucky numbers in Chinese culture, where the respective words sound like "easy to die," "funeral," and "having accidents". Numbers 8 and 9 follow the phonetic pattern being approximate to the words "prosperity" and "sufficient," and are both considered lucky numbers. East Asian cultures appear to place more emphasis and superstition upon lucky numbers than any other. In fact, nearly 75% of search results for "lucky numbers" yield the Chinese society.
Often, superstitions can reveal subtle or occasionally more obvious intercultural differences. In Western and Christian culture, for example, the number 666 is known as the Number of the Beast, and is a synonym for the devil. This religious symbol is usually the most reviled and hated combination of numbers in Western society, but it has quite an opposite meaning in Eastern society, where the combination sounds similar to the phrase "things going smoothly."
Naturally, any article discussing numerophobia is incomplete without detailing the history of Friday the 13th. The number 13 has acquired a powerful superstitious following over the ages in societies scattered all over the world. David Emery at About.com has this to say about it (citation below):
LEGEND HAS IT: If 13 people sit down to dinner together, one will die within the year. The Turks so disliked the number 13 that it was practically expunged from their vocabulary (Brewer, 1894). Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue. Many buildings don't have a 13th floor. If you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil's luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all have 13 letters in their names). There are 13 witches in a coven.
The hysteria surrounding the number thirteen and Friday was significant enough to be noticed by a number of British researchers in 1993. Scanlon TJ, Luben RN, Scanlon FL, and Singleton N. crafted a study later published in the British Medical Journal which asserted that Friday the 13th was dangerous to one's health. The premise of the study was slightly less than academic and the research parameters decidedly amateurish, so the conclusion is not to be taken very seriously, but the researchers assert that a given Friday the 13th is more dangerous than any other Friday. Their recommendation was not to go out of doors on Friday the 13th.
Italy has a similar paranoia about the number 17. This is because the Roman numeral for the number, XVII, also exists as the permutation of VIXI, which when translated into Latin essentially means that one's life is over. In an article describing the date on which Italian football matches are played, British writer Nick Harris indicates the Italian cultural superstition of the number 17 is something to be regarded in athletic competition, as well.
Here is today's list of phobias. Since there are few original number-related phobias left after my first article, I included a few of the most humorous ones for your enjoyment, all from http://phobialist.com/#P-:
Paraskevidekatriaphobia--Fear of Friday the 13th.
Apeirophobia--Fear of infinity.
Androphobia--Fear of men.
Defecaloesiophobia--Fear of painful bowel movements.
Cypridophobia--Fear of prostitutes or venereal disease.
Bromidrophobia--Fear of body smells.
Bolshephobia--Fear of Bolsheviks.
Autodysomophobia--Fear of one that has a vile odor.
Arachibutyrophobia--Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth.
The images used in the title picture are as follows (from left to right and top to bottom): a California "0" state route sign, the sign language symbol for 7, a Hungarian 2 Forint coin (worth approximately 9/10 of a U.S. penny, exchange symbol HUF), an 8 ball pool ball, an American Interstate "4" sign, a Taiwanese "1" freeway sign, a Texas "100" farm-to-market sign, a Georgia highway "3" sign, the five-petaled Potentilla flower, a ten of spades, a Utah highway "6" sign, and the ubiquitous optometrist's color vision test (also known as the PseudoIsochromatic Plate Ishihara Compatible (PIP) Color Vision Test) number 2. Are you feeling numerophobic yet?