Tag Archives: badluck

The Number Four

四   死
Sì   Sǐ
Four Death 
The usage of these two words together is considered bad luck, additionally one should not use the number four during celebration if possible.

So I’m Chinese, so the number four sounds like death, Sì, and the number four, Sǐwáng, the two words sound very similar, so it’s a little taboo for the number four to appear during celebrations. For example, if I were hypothetically to get married, I would probably not pick the fourth, I wouldn’t give, I don’t know, four dollars to anyone on a celebration (laughs), you know, just avoid the number. [Will someone actively use four if they want to wish ill intent on someone, or no?] No, but my mom avoids it. She’ll just tell me not to, so if it comes up that I accidentally use it she’ll just be like “ha, ha don’t do that, boo” (laughs) [So was your mom where you first heard it?] Yeah. It doesn’t really play a role in my everyday life, it’s more so something I take into consideration if I’m trying to celebrate my heritage specifically. So that’s only something I would like keep in mind if, say, my friends and I want to go out for dinner for, say, Chinese new year, and they sit us at the number four (the number four table) it might not be very lucky. If I were to be a little nit-picky and I was in the mood to fight, (laughs) I could tell the waitress I don’t want to sit here. [Laughs] [Do you feel actively not using it will bring people good luck, or is it just preventing bad luck?] It’s preventing bad luck, and it’s not something I think about very much, it’s more of a fun way to connect to my culture but I know people who take it seriously. My parents (laughs) being the people.

-Interview with Informant

The informant’s parents are both Chinese, but the informant was born in San Fransisco, and although they live in Hong Kong, they intend to live in the states after college. Although their parents both strongly believe that the number four can bring bad luck and they were raised not to use the two words together and that four was bad luck, the informant does not hold those same beliefs. This most likely is a result of their international schooling and their everyday life requiring English instead of Cantonese. The words four and death are very different in English, so the superstitious association doesn’t exist in English. The four leaf clover is considered good luck in Ireland, England and the United States. Additionally in the United States one of the most important holidays, Independence Day, is celebrated on the Fourth of July. People often believe what their peers believe, and the informants peers are mostly US students who don’t place any stock in four being bad luck. Not only does the word association not exist in English, there are multiple instances in which the number four brings good luck or is associated with joy or celebration. With the informant pays respect to their heritage and the beliefs of their parents, they much more closely resemble their American peers when it comes to this superstition.

Running Over Lemons


Driving over lemons with a newly purchased vehicle.

SB: We place a lemon under every tire of a vehicle we just bought, and then we drive it over so we crush all of the lemons, so it’s as if all the lemons are taking the brunt of the bad luck that the new vehicle might be running into in the future. It’s a preventive measure type of thing…because all the lemons have taken the bad luck, you’re not supposed to step onto a crushed lemon you see on the street because all that bad luck could transfer to you.


SB is uncertain about the tradition’s origins or what the exact context is. However, she mentions that in in Hinduism, “when you visit a temple, sometimes you break open a coconut, and I’m assuming it has some similar things in terms of destroying these fruits.” She connects breaking these fruits as physical acts of removing bad luck, and she iterates that her family does this whenever they get a new vehicle.


In situations where we feel like we don’t have control, we often try to assert authority through superstitious beliefs. While they may not be scientifically accepted, they can be held true by a community and naturally embed itself into familial tradition. Specifically, when we buy a new vehicle, there’s a lot we may not know: the ins and outs of how the car drives, what it’s like to drive the car amidst a bustling highway, and other factors that could influence our sense of security. When we drive, our lives are in the hands of everyone else on the road. These acts to ensure safe driving can remove the stress from a very anxiety-inducing activity for some people.

There are many driving rituals that exist to prevent bad luck or appreciate good luck, such as holding your breath when passing a graveyard or hitting the dashboard when narrowly escaping a yellow light. Despite laws and policies that attempt to keep our roads safe, institutions can’t really dictate belief. So much of this unofficial knowledge and these individual and communal rituals blossom from a desire to claim more direct control and exercise our personal beliefs. There is no law that tells us how to magically bring upon good luck, and there is no science supporting some of these rituals, but we believe in them anyway and engage in these practices to add an extra layer of security.