The perils of "7" and "9" in Cantonese

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Here we go again:

"Samsung's Galaxy On7 goes official" (Marketing-Interactive, 9/28/16)

As we've covered shortly two weeks ago, the pronunciation of "7″ sounds like "penis" in Cantonese, and the latest Samsung Galaxy On7 launch has once again stirred up discussion on the internet in Hong Kong.

The Cantonese pronunciation of  "On9″ [sic: there seems to be a mix-up here] is similar to slang meaning "stupid", and many are saying the new release is a crossover between the two slang words.

Cf. "Does the new iPhone 7 slogan mean "precisely penis" in Chinese?" (9/9/16)

Here I feel obliged to quote one of Rich's comments to the latter post:

When iPhone 9 and Note 9 release, we will bump into the same problem in Cantonese.  九 also sounds like another obscenity in Cantonese, which means "cunning dick".

This is 9 = This is 鳩 (in Cantonese). This is a dick/this is cunning.
9. This is 9 = 鳩. This is 鳩. Dick. This is a dick. / Cunning. This is cunning.
It even sounds worse for Samsung Note 9
Note 9 sounds like 碌鳩, which also means penis.

Numbers to avoid in Cantonese
4 = 死 = dead
7 = 柒 = dumb (柒 means penis literally. But in fact it means dumb)
9 = 鳩 = dick
19 = 濕鳩 = cunning
24 = 易死 = easy to die
67 = 碌柒 = dumb
69 = 碌鳩 = dick

The takeaway from this is that, in naming products in Cantonese, you've got to be very careful with your numbers.  Otherwise you might open yourself to 19 ridicule.



11 Comments

  1. Anschel Schaffer-Cohen said,

    September 28, 2016 @ 8:05 pm

    This all makes me wonder if a naive or foreign marketer has ever tried to sell a product to the English-speaking world with the model number "69".

  2. Kathy Powers said,

    September 28, 2016 @ 8:27 pm

    Why not just name the models with the native words for 7 and 9? Duh!

  3. AntC said,

    September 28, 2016 @ 10:10 pm

    Numbers to avoid in Cantonese 4 … 7 … 9 …

    Living in Hong Kong, I got used to tower blocks having no floor between 12 and 14. But they certainly had 4, 7, 9.

    Do businesses or apartment dwellers on those floors get a discount on their rent?

    A third of the basic digits are taboo!? How can ordinary life be possible without constant embarrassment?

  4. Oop said,

    September 29, 2016 @ 12:09 am

    More interestingly, is life of Cantonese mathematicians full of silly jokes? "What's 3+6?" – "Hee, hee, he said 'penis'!"

  5. Lugubert said,

    September 29, 2016 @ 2:54 am

    @Anschel Schaffer-Cohen: There's at least the famous whisky VAT 69.

  6. Johan P said,

    September 29, 2016 @ 6:01 am

    But I mean, how difficult is it to keep the two meanings apart? In Swedish (and German), "sex" means both 6 and, well, sex. Unless it's a particularly convoluted pun, no-one has any trouble keeping the meanings apart.

  7. Jonathan Kan said,

    September 29, 2016 @ 12:04 pm

    "7" actually mean "penis in non-erect state", and also imply "very suck situation"; while "9" actually mean "cock in fully erected state". Finally, "19" is literally translated as "wet cock", which imply "wank/wanker".

  8. Bruce said,

    September 29, 2016 @ 2:59 pm

    @AntC I remember a building called Nan Fung Centre (难丰中心 that had a bus loop underneath, a shopping arcade on the first few floors (accessed mostly by escalators, not elevators), and two banks of elevators, one for floors 5-12 and the other for floors 15-24.

    As you said, this carefully created the illusion that floors 13 and 14 did not exist.

  9. Jonathan said,

    September 29, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

    If one squints hard, the word "perils" looks like something altogether relevant to this article. Well played, Mr. Mair.

  10. ryan said,

    September 30, 2016 @ 1:39 am

    This reminds me of my friend's son, an 11-year old who invited all his friends to join the cool new Pen Fifteen club by writing PEN15 on their arms. It was surprising how many took him up on it before someone realized what was up.

    I'm with AntC – how can a plurality of digits be puns on dour words without everyone eventually just rolling their eyes and stubbornly refusing to concede that the pun even exists. Surely no one even acknowledges these puns after they're 8 years old. Or do Cantonese resolutely resist numeracy in their native tongue because it puts them in too many compromising positions?

  11. Simon P said,

    September 30, 2016 @ 2:12 am

    Of course, it all depends on the tones. There's also the problem of the Cantonese copula 係 (hai6) can sound like 閪 (hai1), a vulgar word for the female genitalia.

    Practicing southern Chinese kung fu many years ago, we had a lot of Cantonese words. Some of the more common ones were counting (in drills and the like) and responding to commands with "係!" for the affirmative.

    After having lived in southern China for a year and learned Cantonese I returned and found it exceedingly difficult to keep a straight face.

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