foregoing fours forestalls misfortune: government in action

Eddie Murphy's paranoid character of Kit Ramsey, from the movie 'Bowfinger'
Kit: The letter K appears in this script 1,456 times. That’s perfectly divisible by 3.
Freddy: So what? So what you saying?
Kit: What am I saying? KKK appears in this script 486 times!

–from Bowfinger

Webmaster’s note: I just came across this old post, which for some reason I failed to put online half a year ago, back when it was actually news. So when I refer to the government here, that means the Chen administration, not the current one of Ma Ying-jeou — not that it would probably make any difference on this issue. This is one change the Ma administration doesn’t seem interested in rescinding. And, anyway, with China starting the Olympics ceremony tonight at 8 p.m. — that’s 08/08/08 at 8:00 (or is the time supposed to be 8:08:08?) — a number-related post doesn’t seem out of order.

The deadly number four is in the news again. Eliminating fours from Taiwan license plates wasn’t enough, as millions of people in Taiwan still have the potentially life-threatening burden of one or more fours in their official ID no.

In Mandarin, the word for “four” () sounds similar but not identical to the word for “die/death” (). In Taiwanese, too, the words are similar but not identical sounding.

So the government has decided to pander to the superstitious treat the issue with appropriate cultural sensitivity. Removing 4 entirely from Taiwan’s two-letter, eight-digit ID numbers would affect too many IDs, officials decided, so at least one 4 can remain — but never in the final position. (The latter restriction has been in force since 2000.)

Luckily, for those who need to have every last 4 removed from their ID number, help is at hand.

Let’s just hope that whatever massive amount of taxpayers’ money the government will have to spend on this, the figure won’t have an unlucky four in it, because then some people might start to question the wisdom of this project.

sources and further reading:

5 thoughts on “foregoing fours forestalls misfortune: government in action

  1. In Japanese too, “four” is homophonous with “death,” and “nine” is homophonous with “pain, suffering” (?). There are a few places where these superstitions crop up, like things rarely being sold in sets of four, but they certainly don’t go as far as to eliminate these numbers from license plates.

  2. Yes, for my house numbering schemes I must randomly throw away numbers
    on the odd side of the street lest it grow faster than the even!

    P.S., After half an hour of pouring over the selection books at the
    offices of Zhonghua (Ch-w-… too painful to spell their way) Telecom
    I selected the cell phone number of 0911-921-444 (9/11 incident, 921
    Taiwan earthquake of 1999, and “death death death”), only to be
    informed that three same numbers in a row needed another 400 NT$, so I
    was forced to pick a more auspicious number.

  3. Lest we think that superstition only leads to government action in East Asia, in 2003 the number of the highway that leads from Monticello, Utah to Gallup, New Mexico, long designated route 666, was officially renumbered 491 due to the complaints of Christians who believe that 666 is the Number of the Beast.

  4. Pingback: Pinyin news » X marks the spot?

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