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The Secret Messages Inside Chinese URLs

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(Photo credit: Office for National Statistics)

The Secret Messages Inside Chinese URLs

An American friend living in Beijing once said she refused to communicate with anyone whose email address consisted of a string of numbers, such as 62718298454@163.com. This made sense to me at the time—why make email addresses as difficult to remember as phone numbers? But I soon realized that issuing a blanket ban on number-based communications would mean cutting off just about every single Chinese person I knew. 
This kind of number-language has become an infinitely malleable shorthand among Chinese web users: 1 means “want,” 2 means “love,” 4 means “dead” or “world” or “is,” 5 means “I,” 7 means “wife” or “eat,” 8 means “get rich” or “not,” and 9 means “long time” or “alcohol.” The numbers 5201314, for example, mean 我爱你一生一世,or “I will love you forever”; 0748 means “go die”; and 687 means “I’m sorry.” (See here for more examples.) Chinese has plenty of other number-based slang, such as erbaiwu, or “250,” which means “idiot,” or “38,” pronounced sanba, which means “bitch.” And of course there’s the association of certain numbers with good or bad luck, and the subsequent demand for addresses and phone numbers with lots of 8s (“get rich”) and minimal 4s (“die”). Back in 2003, a Chinese airline paid $280,000 for the phone number 88888888.


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