Meaning of numbers

I love numbers. Speaking as a linguist (syntactician, mainly) and a former mathematician, I cannot stress how much I find numbers fascinating. I love reading Hebrew, since there is a theory that Hebrew characters all have numerical value. A page of Hebrew characters is hence also a page of numbers. I am also Chinese, and in our culture there is a curious superstition regarding numbers, namely those that rhyme with characters which denote prosperity or bad fortune. It is widely known that we have a predilection for the number eight 8 八 (ba in Mandarin, baat in Cantonese) and an abhorrence for the number four 4 四 (si in Mandarin, sei in Cantonese), which sound very similar to the characters 發 ‘prosperity’ (fa in Mandarin, faat in Cantonese) and 死 ‘death’ (si in Mandarin, sei in Cantonese, though different tones) respectively. There are also combinations of numbers which strengthen the meaning of these numbers e.g. ten 10 十 (sap in Cantonese), which resembles the adverb 實 (sat in Cantonese; this word is dialectal and derives from Classical Chinese) meaning ‘definitely’. The numbers fourteen 14 十四 (sap sei) and eighteen 18 十八 (sap baat) are hence highly significant, since the former means ‘definite death’ 實死 (sat sei) and the latter ‘definite prosperity’ 實發 (sat faat). One could go on with these different numerical permutations, but these are the main ingredients of our superstition regarding numbers. Fascinating.

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