‘What’s ‘quadrophbia’ mean?’ my dad asked.

‘What?’ I said.

‘Quadrophobia,’ he repeated. ‘Q-U-A-D-R-O-phobia.’

‘Huh? Fear of the number four?’

‘That’s Cantonese people,’ mum exclaimed. ‘Cantonese people are scared of the number 4.’

‘Yes! Yes, you’re right!’ My dad and I immediately knew what she meant.

Cantonese people will do everything they can to avoid the number four in house numbers, number plates, phone number and birthdays. In places like Hong Kong, Box Hill and Richmond (mini Hong Kongs in Melbourne), you’ll find that flats go from 3 to 3a, then 5. Buildings don’t have floors 4 or 44. All this quadrophobia is because in Cantonese, the number four (shi) sounds like ‘death’.

‘I’m going to look it up,’ I said.

I found two definitions for quadrophobia. Urban Dictionary says that it’s an irrational fear of things that come in fours, then give an example of someone who didn’t want to see a band with four musicians. The Wall Street Journal says that companies are quadrophobic because the number 4 only appears 8.5% of the time in quarterly earnings figures, instead of the expected 10%. It turns out that companies are rounding 4s down.

Stanford University study on the rounding of numbers in quarterly earnings statements

Stanford University study on the rounding of numbers in quarterly earnings statements

No mention of the widespread quadrophobia of Cantonese people. I like mum’s explanation best.

And now we’ve coined a new term — Octophilia, also a widespread Cantonese condition.

One comment

  1. Yap says:

    Steve Jobs should have known this during the launch of his latest iPhone. Remember the wifi crashed and then the issue on signal drop because of the “grip of death”? All these could have been avoided if he named it iPhone3A..or just skip it to iphone5

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