Applied Quadrophobia

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Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong entrepreneur, is one of the wealthiest persons in the world.  Around the beginning of this month, he sold the famous Hong Kong skyscraper known as The Center to a Chinese Communist Party-backed firm for over $5 billion, making it the most expensive commercial building ever sold.

Here's the WSJ report on the transaction:

"China’s Communist Party Has Ties to $5.15 Billion Hong Kong Property Deal:  The Center was featured in Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight'", by Wenxin Fan and Natasha Khan, WSJ (11/2/17)

What's interesting is that some websites claim that The Center is a "73 story building", while others describe it as having "80 floors". Apparently they're both correct … depending on what is counted.  This blog post explains why:  "Five Billion Dollar Office Tower Missing A Few Floors", by Nathaniel Taplin, WSJ (11/8/17).

The soaring office tower,

…famous for a certain superhero’s high altitude acrobatics in The Dark Knight, is 80 stories tall according to the website of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

But in reality, it is only 73 stories high.

The gap isn’t the result of any dastardly supervillain heist, but is actually related to a quirk of the Chinese language: the number “four” sounds uncomfortably like “death” in mandarin and many other Chinese dialectics [sic], leading to a rash of skyscrapers across greater China mysteriously missing their 4th, 14th, and especially 44th floors. Unsurprisingly, renters aren’t eager to pay for a spot on the “Death-death” floor.

sì 四 ("four")
sǐ 死 ("die")

More information on the fear of four here:

In some mainland Chinese and Taiwanese buildings (typically high-rises), the 4th floor is actually omitted or skipped, along with other floors ending in 4 such as the 14th and 24th floors, with the floor above the third numbered as the fifth and so on. This is due to the Chinese word for "four" being very phonetically similar (though not exact homonyms in most dialects due to their intonations) to the word for "dead" or "die". Also for this reason, apartments on the 4th floor in Asian countries such as Taiwan have traditionally been cheaper to rent. This cultural superstition can be considered a form of tetraphobia. It is also common in China for the thirteenth floor to also be omitted.

Kudos to the WSJ blogger for picking up on this idiosyncracy and turning it into an entertaining story.

[Thanks to Mark Metcalf]


  1. Bruce Rusk said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 12:35 am

    It's not only Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the PRC: I lived in a building in Vancouver (built by a Hong Kong developer) that skipped floors 4, 14, and 24.

  2. ErikF said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 12:43 am

    This doesn't sound too different from buildings in North America that omit the 13th floor (not to mention buildings where floors are omitted to make the building sound taller than it really is!)

  3. R. Fenwick said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 3:28 am

    @Bruce Rusk:

    It's not only Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the PRC

    No, but as you noted with the building in Vancouver, a Sinophonic influence is usually at play in some form or another. Crown Towers, the hotel attached to the Crown Casino in Melbourne in Australia, also lacks floor 4, since a good part of their business comes from East Asian high rollers. (To be fair, Crown Towers also doesn't have a floor 13, so they're being equal-opportunity with accommodating the superstitious.)

  4. B.Ma said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 3:58 am

    Several buildings in HK omit 13th and 14th floors so you go straight from 12 to 15.

    Though, none of the 5 buildings I lived in in HK skipped any numbers.

    I guess it's more about the address than the actual floor, since you are still actually on the 4th floor even if it is labeled 5th floor. So maybe it's more common in office buildings and some hotels. Imagine the presidential suite being room 4444…

  5. Bob Ladd said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 3:59 am

    On some American airlines there's no seat row 13, and on at least some Lufthansa planes there's no row 17 either (again, equal opportunity superstition – 17 is considered unlucky in Italy, I forget why). Do Chinese airlines routinely skip row 4, 14, etc.?

  6. David Morris said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 6:29 am

    There is 'a 4th floor', whether you call it '4', '5' or '3.1419'.

    William Labov wouldn't have been able to do his most famous research there!

  7. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 7:57 am

    @Bob Ladd:
    Apparently it doesn't occur to some people that if the passengers in Row 13 encounter trouble, everybody else on the plane does, too :)

  8. Stephen Johnson said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 9:24 am

    The flip side is 8, which, IIRC, sounds like "cash" – so you see a lot of cars with 88888 or various multi-8 number combos, at least here in Western Canada

  9. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 9:26 am

    I wonder how the standard "tetraphobia" became the nonsensical "quadrophobia" in the title.

  10. jaap said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 9:29 am

    I've been in a hotel that omitted the 13th floor in a fair way. It did have a 13th floor, but it had no hotelrooms and was inaccessible via the guest elevators. The floor housed the laundry rooms and other work spaces of the hotel.

  11. D.O. said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 9:46 am

    To continue the line started by David Morris, the number of floors and the numbering of floors are different things. No matter how many floor numbers are skipped 73 floors cannot become 80. I suggest numbering floors with prime numbers.

  12. L'Homme Armé said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 10:53 am

    If they're willing to skip not just the 4th floor but also the 14th, 24th, 34th, and so forth, then it's a little surprising they don't go straight from the 39th to the 50th.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 11:04 am

    quadrophobia 50,300 ghits

    tetraphobia 75,900 ghits



  14. Bruce said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 11:21 am

    Consider the Nan Fung Centre in Tsuen Wan, New Territories, Hong Kong. This building is only about 24 storeys tall (see below), but they avoid unlucky floor numbers in a very artful way.

    Here, for instance is the entrance to one of two banks of elevators to the office levels:

    Notice that this runs from Floors 3 to 12. The matching bank of elevators runs from 15 to 24! There is a hidden freight elevator system that runs continuously from the ground (1 floor beneath the nominal entry level, which is a bus loop), right to the top of the building.

    The point here is that no one is presented with an elevator panel with missing 13 and 14 buttons. Instead, the 15th floor and above are accessed through a separate bank of elevators.

    AFAIK there is no issue with 13 in Chinese culture: that's a Western matter. That's what makes Hong Kong strange. A mixture of Chinese and Western traditions and practice, Older buildings have a perverse mix of British floor numbering and Chinese. Chinese agrees with American, but British number the first floor ABOVE the ground 1. So you can easily find older buildings in Kowloon where the Chinese and English directories don't agree on the floor numbering.

  15. Bill Benzon said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 11:28 am

    If Trump owned the building the number would be whatever he wanted it to be. Perhaps 100, as it's a nice 'round' number.

  16. Carlos Gómez-Rodríguez said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 12:02 pm

    Why do they remove the floors ending with 4 but not those starting with 4 (40, 41, 42…)

    (I suppose they don't, as if they did, the difference between the last floor's number and the number of floors should be larger).

  17. BobW said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 1:13 pm

    Maybe it's the Who's next album, they already did Quadrophenia.

  18. Mary Kuhner said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 2:18 pm

    I don't speak Japanese myself, but my martial arts teachers explain that we count "ichi, ni, san, shi" but the combining form for the fourth number is "yon-" because "shi" sounds too much like "death." American students note that being able to translate your title as "death master" would sound badass rather than unlucky!

    A US example of this number-avoidance is that the house or business address 666 is sometimes avoided.

  19. Anonymous Coward said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 2:23 pm

    The custom of saying yon and nana instead of shi and shichi, I heard, did not arise from taboo avoidance but in order to avoid confusion.

  20. maidhc said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 3:34 pm

    I seem to remember reading about some buildings where the floor above floor 12 is floor 12A.

    jaap's comment reminds me of a short story. It may have been MR James. The concept was that the number of windows as seen from the outside of a hotel did not match the number of rooms as seen from the corridor, although there didn't seem to be anything missing.

    There's a similar idea in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.

  21. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 3:55 pm

    @ maidhc:
    I wonder if you might be thinking of "Number 13" by M.R. James, though it's not quite what you describe. In this story, the main character is staying in Room 12 in a hotel. There's a blackboard that lists the rooms and the occupants and there is no Room 13 listed. However, that night he sees that there is a room 13 next to his room. The following morning, Room 13 is no longer there and his room seems bigger than it did. I read it a long time ago and I can't remember how it was resolved.

  22. maidhc said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 5:21 pm

    Ralph Hickok: I may be getting two stories mixed up because it's a long time since I read it. The MR James story is definitely one of them. I vaguely recollect a Lovecraft story with a similar theme as well.

  23. MC said,

    November 14, 2017 @ 9:46 pm

    I just love that one of the wealthiest people in the world is named Ka-shing (cf American English ka-ching).

  24. ajay said,

    November 15, 2017 @ 9:13 am

    The concept was that the number of windows as seen from the outside of a hotel did not match the number of rooms as seen from the corridor, although there didn't seem to be anything missing.

    This is supposedly the case for Glamis Castle in Scotland (ancestral home of the late Queen Mother) – the Monster of Glamis lives in a room or rooms which have windows but no visible door. Supposedly a rowdy house party during the 19th century decided to test this out, and, waiting for the Earl's absence, went round the house and hung a white sheet (or similar) out of every window they could find, and then went outside and looked for unmarked windows. There were four…

  25. Kate Gladstone said,

    November 15, 2017 @ 2:20 pm

    Coby Lubliner, what makes “quadrophobia” any more nonsensical than the equally Greco-Latin “automobile” or, say, the Anglo-Latin “starvation” and “talkative”?

  26. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 15, 2017 @ 3:17 pm

    The peeve against supposedly barbarous hybrids of Greek and Latin morphemes in coined English words is an old one, a competent overview of which is given here (scroll down for a picture of the Polyamory Is Wrong t-shirt):

    OTOH, most coined -phobia words in English stick to a Greek prefix, don't they? If we can handle triskaidekaphobia, tetraphobia should hardly be too opaque for common use.

  27. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 15, 2017 @ 3:21 pm

    As a bonus, this reminds me of the lost classic distorted-psychedelic-guitar album Triskaidekaphobe, by a band whose German-sounding name is (because of using a neut sg article with a fem pl noun) incoherent/ungrammatical in actual German.

  28. Dan T. said,

    November 15, 2017 @ 4:10 pm

    A 1970s issue of Action Comics (featuring Superman) had a story involving the 13th floor of the building where the Daily Planet was located, which turned out to be a dimensional gateway used by aliens.

  29. mark dowson said,

    November 16, 2017 @ 8:01 am

    I'm surprised that no one has noted that in the UK it is common – or was when I lived there – for a building with (for example) four floors to number them "ground floor", "first floor", "second floor", "third floor". Would the third floor thus labelled be considered unlucky by a Chinese occupant as it is 'actually' the fourth? From the previous posts it would appear not.

  30. James Wimberley said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 1:11 pm

    Imagine a very large circular one-storey motel. There is simply no "true " numbering of the rooms, since you can start anywhere. To cater for numerophobes of all cultures, there are no rooms labeled 4, 13, 14, 24, 666, etc. The fear is of the name, not the thing.

  31. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

    @James Wimberley:
    But surely the "true" numbering of rooms begins at the point where guests leave the lobby to go to their rooms. In the United States, I suspect Room 1 would be the first room on the right, although it might just as well be on the left.

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