We’ve already established that in China, numbers are a lot more meaningful than in the West. But did you know it was possible to have entire conversations entirely comprised of numbers? Forget Western chat room abbreviations, in comes Chinese numerical Internet slang!
For convenience’s sake, many Chinese use numbers instead of characters to express their feelings, be it in chat rooms or while messaging their peers. What looks like so much gibberish to the uninitiated actually makes sense to the slang-savvy Chinese netizen. As with lucky and unlucky numbers, Chinese internet prowlers utilize the fact that some numbers sound (sometimes only by a very loose approximation) like the words they want to express.
This turns 520 or 521 (with each number pronounced separately: wǔ èr líng or wǔ èr yī) into “I love you” (wǒ ài nǐ in Mandarin). The extra-fervent might add 1314 (with each number pronounced separately: yī sǎn yī sì) to this in order to express their eternal devotion. In this scenario, 1314 comes to mean forever, because it represents 一生一世 (yīshēngyīshì in Pinyin), meaning „one life, one world“.
While 520 means I love you, please be careful not to confuse it with 250 (pronounced èr bǎi wǔ), because instead of professing your love, with 250 you are calling your adored an idiot instead! The use of 250 to mean idiot actually predates the advent of the Internet by several hundred years. There are many different rumors about how this expression came into use. The most frequently cited one seems to be a story from the Warring States period (5th century BC). At the time, there was a famous man surnamed Su who had many supporters, but also many enemies. His enemies murdered him. The king, who was very angry about his murder, vowed to find the culprit. So he had Su’s head cut off and put on display by the town gate with a sign next to it saying “Su is a traitor, whoever killed him will receive 1000 gold pieces”. There were 4 people who came up claiming that they had killed him. The king asked them: “So what should I do – should I give you 250 (èr bǎi wǔ) gold pieces each?” And with one voice, they said: “1 person 250!”. The furious king ordered their heads cut off for their impertinence instead. But this is only one of the stories of where the expression 250 for a stupid person comes from. No matter its origin, it is a widely used abbreviation for an idiot, so beware of mixing it up with 520!
The answer to such a faux-pas might well be a resounding 7451 (with each number pronounced separately: qīsìwǔyaò), which stands for „I am angry“ (气死我了, qì sǐ wǒ le in Mandarin) or even a sarcastic 88 (bābā in Pinyin) for „byebye“.
If you want to avoid your beloved to give you the digital boot, you might enlist another friend’s help – in another chat window – with a pleading 8858 (with each number pronounced separately: bā bā wǔ bā) which here stands for 帮帮我吧 (bāng bāng wǒ ba in Mandarin) or even 995 (with each number pronounced separately: jiǔ jiǔ wǔ) meaning 救救我 (jiù jiù wǒ), “help!” or “save me!”.
If, however, you get it all right, your beloved might answer your declaration of love with a satisfied 9494 (with each number pronounced separately: jiǔ sì jiǔ sì), which stands for 就是就是 (jiù shì jiù shì in Pinyin), meaning something like “just so” or “that’s right”.
And if you have mastered all these number games, you will maybe even be rewarded by a 66666 (liù liù liù liù liù…) which sounds a bit like 牛牛牛牛牛… (niú niú niú niú niú…). 牛 in turn is a slang term for someone who is very capable or especially good at something. The more 6s, the better/stronger/smarter the other person thinks you are. Those of you who have borne with me this far all deserve about 1000 6s in a row. What do you think?
For a bonus internet slang term, let’s get away from purely throwing numbers around and let me say 3Q (sān Q) – THANK YOU for reading, commenting on and redistributing this post. And of course 3Q for following us on social media (WeChat/Twitter/Instagram/Facebook) or our blog as well!
Written by Julie Marx