Folk Beliefs
Protection

Avoid the Deadly Four

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“One of my friends told me that in Chinese culture, the word “four” has a similar pronunciation to the word for “death”. So if you go into buildings in like Hong Kong or whatever, they skip the number four, so you know how we as Americans, some high rises don’t have thirteen, they don’t have four. Not only that, but they also skip the entire forty level too. So you go from thirty nine not to forty, but to fifty.”

The avoidance of “four” because it sounds like “death” in Chinese culture is a classic example of homeopathic magic. The thinking centers around the belief that the word invites death because of the way it sounds and the more that it is invoked, the more death and bad luck it invites. The idea that uttering a word can bring bad luck is common, such as the taboo on the word “Macbeth” when inside the theater.

Hotels and apartments have an incentive to omit the number four from much of their buildings because living on a fourth floor room would be seen as living in the shadow of death. For these businesses, it is a smarter move financially to exclude these floors because clients or customers would refuse to associate with them. It’s better to be safe than sorry and avoid the number four.

Interestingly, both South Koreans and Japanese also have an aversion to their “four” word as it is pronounced very similarly to the Chinese “four” and their word for “death” is very similar to the Chinese word for “death.” Of course, Korean and Japanese are strongly believed to have originated from Chinese, and because traditions and superstitions are carried through language, it is reasonable that these two cultures would also avoid the number four.

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