Tag Archives: unlucky numbers

Unlucky number 4

BACKGROUND: My informant, AY, is a student from China who attends school in the US. She and her family split their time evenly between China and the US. This piece is a superstition that she didn’t necessarily learn from her family, but rather something that is prevalent in Chinese culture.  

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend to discuss superstition in Chinese culture.

AY: The number 4 in Chinese sounds exactly like the word for death in Chinese so Chinese people avoid it like the plague so much so that most hotels don’t have a fourth floor.

THOUGHTS: The superstition surrounding the number 4 in Chinese culture is akin to the superstition of 13 being a feared number in Western culture. While I’m not altogether sure why 13 is such an unlucky number in American culture, the explanation for why 4 is so feared in Chinese communities makes sense. The association between the number 4 and death points to a larger universal avoidance and reverence of the topic.

The Unlucky Number Thirteen

Main Piece

Subject: So Grandma Gordon was a very superstitious woman. She believed in many of the superstitions that have been passed along from the “Old Country” and carried forth through generations.

Interviewer: The Old Country? That would be Russia?

Subject: Yeah Russia. That’s probably ultimately where it came from. People really believed in a lot of things. Like thirteen was a really bad number. And even to this day, I still have that in my head that there is something about thirteen. So Grandma Gordon wouldn’t live in a building that had a thirteenth floor. So the building that they lived in interestingly, in Fort Lauderdale, didn’t have a thirteenth floor. It was almost a thirty story building but it didn’t have a thirteenth floor. And they built the buildings that way because they were trying to sell to people who really believed in these things that wouldn’t live in a building that had that thirteenth floor. So it went twelve… fourteen.

Context: The subject is a white middle-aged male of Ashkenazi and Eastern-European descent. He was born and raised in Tiverton, Rhode Island with his parents and two siblings. He also happens to be my father, and we are currently quarantined together at our home in Charleston, South Carolina. After dinner one night, I was sitting with him in my dimly lit living room, and I asked if he would share with me any folk beliefs he had heard passed through the family.

Interpretation: I am very familiar with superstition that the number thirteen is extremely unlucky, but I had no idea of its ties to “The Old Country.” Upon further research, I found that the number thirteen is considered unlucky across many religions and cultures. The superstition is also tied to the measure of time. Sumerians built the ancient calendar using the number twelve. There are two sets of twelve hours in a day, twelve months in a year. Because twelve was considered the perfect number, thirteen was considered unlucky. Additionally, in Christianity, it is considered unlucky because at the Last Supper, there were thirteen people sitting at the table and one of them, Judas, ended up betraying Jesus. This seemed to be the most common source of thirteen’s unluckiness. I suspect the superstition’s spread in Russia to have originated from a variety of origins. Furthermore, I found that the number thirteen is significant but not considered unlucky in some cultures. In Judaism, thirteen is the year where a young Jewish boy or girl becomes a bar or bat mitzvah. I find it so interesting that despite my being Jewish, my father, and his grandmother, the belief that thirteen is still very unlucky is ingrained in their brains. 

4 Will Bring Death

The informant shares how the number four is a connotation for bad luck in Chinese culture. She shared this in a group environment, where another member of the group, ‘Support,’ provided additional information to what the Informant was sharing:


Informant: We also don’t like the number 4

Me: What’s the number 4?

Informant: Like the number, four. We don’t like it. It means death. It’s associated with death

Support: Because when you say four in mandarin it sounds like the same word as death in mandarin.

Informant: So literally in my building there is no fourth floor, it’s the fifth floor.

Support: It’s kinda like how sometimes in America in buildings there’s no 13thfloor. It’s the same way… they just skip the number 4 when doing floors.

Informant: Yeah theres no 14th, 24th, they just skp the number.

Support: Oh really?!  I remember seeing the 4thskipped,but I don’t remember seeing 14th.

Informant: Like in my building there’s nothing floor.


Support: yeah because you don’t wanna live on the death floor… its kind of a pun.


Informant: But then lucky numbers are six or eight for a similar reason. Eight is associated with wealth, like you’re getting more money.



I was talking with a group of friends while we were working on a class project and some of the group members wanted to share pieces of their traditions with me. It was a very casual setting and the performance took place in front of three other individuals.


The informant is from Hong Kong, China, but attends school at USC. She has experienced the stigma of the number four first hand, because there is no floor containing ‘4’ in her apartment building in Hong Kong.


I love learning about how different cultures have similar superstitions to the United States, but while similar there is a different reasoning. While the US may view 13 as unlucky, it is not that way in China.

Unlucky Number Four


E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions Eileen’s mother believed.


Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with E. (I will be represented with a J)

Main piece:

J: “Are there any other superstitions that you experienced growing up? With your family or friends? School, even?

E: “Uhh… Well, because my dad was Chinese, he would always warn us about the number 4. In Chinese, the number four sounds the same as the word death, so we would avoid it like the plague. Even today, if I have to travel, I ask to be moved to a new hotel room if I am placed on the fourth floor. In china, most of the hotels don’t even have a fourth floor. It just goes from the third to the fifth floor.… Freshman year, I had to stay on the fourth floor of the dorms, and it was one of the wort years of my life.”

J: “Why was it so bad?”

E: “Well, I was constantly getting sick, and I really seemed to struggle in my classes. As soon as I moved out of those dorms, my grades improved a lot, too! So you know, that kind of solidified it for me, I guess.”

J: “What are your thoughts on the number 7? A lot of people believe that it is almost the opposite of that. That the number 7 represents fortune or good luck. Are there any like that in Chinese folklore that you know of?”

E: “Yeah, here in the United States, 7 is big. 7 for good luck, and 13 for bad luck. Even our gambling has a game specifically for rolling dice to get 7. And of course, Friday the thirteenth. In terms of lucky Chinese numbers, the number 8 is considered to be pretty lucky. It sounds similar to a word that means ‘making fortune’ or ‘to make a fortune’.”


This superstition seems to be a common theme across cultures. There seems to be an unlucky number that cultures try to avoid. For example, I’ve also seen hotels in the United States that do not have a thirteenth floor. A lot of buildings stop at the twelfth floor, too. There also tends to be a lucky number in each culture. We have the overarching 7 being lucky, but then people in the United States also have “lucky numbers” that they look for. It could be the person’s birthday, or just a number that they experienced something positive with growing up.

47: The New 13

Alright so we’re flying out to Hawaii, myself and three other friends who also believe the power of 47 and, by the way, our groupchat name is 47. So, we get to the airport and we see that it, not only our gate number’s 47, but the time that were flying out? 3:47.

‘ get on the plane, take off, fly for 30 minutes over the water, the pilot says, “This is your captain speaking. There’s been a malfunction with the plane and the- the s- uh-uh-uh the technology to fly over water is not working right now. We need to turn around.”

So we fly another 30 minutes back to LAX, so we’ve been in the air for about an hour and we have fuel for five hours ‘cuz we’re supposed to go to Hawaii, so were full of- full of gas – a lot heavier – we turn around, we land at LAX with the firefighters and paramedics there just in case.

‘ everything’s fine, we get off, we go t- we go to Ono Hawaiian Barbecue that night ‘cuz we wanted Hawaiian food – we’re supposed to go to Hawaii – so like of course- L&L. It was L&L Hawaiian Barbecue closes at 11, so we run to it (gesturing sprinting by swinging his arms at his sides with fists clenched). My receipt number’s number order 47. It was too much, too much.
So, then, in Hawaii, we ate uhh then in Hawaii after the very. 1st. day. we get there, we go snorkeling. I get stung by a box jellyfish, my arm swells up like crazy and burns, hurts so bad. The 47 ruined everything after that. The next day we drink at my friends’ house. My friend got way too drunk and threw up in his bed, slept right in the puke, woke up the next day super sick. Everything was bad bad. That’s all from the trip. 47.

The Informant had zero hesitation when I asked him if he had a lucky or unlucky number. He said, “Oh dude 47. 47 for sure.” I feel like he could talk for hours about spooky coincidences that seem to always revolve around the presence of the number 47.

The first and one of the only recorded instances of a distinctive focus on the number 47 began at Pomona College. A student tried to determine if the number occurred more often than any other random number. This turned into a widespread hunt throughout the campus for 47 and has turned into a traditional celebration on campus ever April 7th. The Pomona inside joke has popped up throughout many Hollywood films and TV shows, but there is never any indication of good or bad things associated with its presence. It seems as though the number 47 exists in the mediums for the sake of existing; not good luck and not bad luck.

This collection was funny, especially because the Informant had a seemingly endless list of examples to share with me. I couldn’t get him to shut up about it. Because of this, I was shocked that there hasn’t been recorded examples of the unluckiness of the fateful number 47.