Most of these are used when instant messaging friends or sending text messages. A few of them, like 4, 6, and 8 are pretty well integrated to everyday life and you’ll encounter their universal meanings wherever you go.
All of them are based on homophones, where the sound for the number(s) sounds like something else. I’m indebted to my students and Miss Expatriate for helping and telling me the current popular “number sayings.” All of the following are in Mandarin, unless otherwise specified to be Taiwanese.
4 – 死 (sì) – death. Chinese/Taiwanese people absolutely hate this number. If you get a cell phone number, the numbers with 4s in them will have discounts because no one wants them. In many buildings, such as hospitals, there will be no 4th floor (who wants to go to a hospital and stay on the “death floor”?)
6 – 六 (liù) – Luck. Apparently, this comes from Hong Kong. The pronunciation of the number 6 sounds like the word 祿 (lù). When in Taiwan or China, you’ll notice that any phone numbers or license plates with the numbers 6 and 8 are extremely popular.
8 – 八 (bā) – Good luck. This sounds like 發 (fā), the word for luck.
38 – 三八 (sānbā) – Silly woman (as noted by Laowai Chinese, this is because March 8 (3/8) is International Women’s Day. Where the negative connotation came from is unclear.
56 – 五六 (wǔliù) – Bored. This is a homophone to 無聊 (wúliáo) which means bored.
78 – 七八 (qībā) – qībā sounds like the Taiwanese pronunciation of a slang word for penis. It’s also very close to a Taiwanese slang word for vagina (qībǎi), so 78 can mean either one, depending on the context.
87 – 白痴 (báichī) – Idiot/Stupid.
88 – 八八 (bābā) – Bye bye.
98 – 九八 (jiǔbā) – Let’s go. This sounds similar to 走吧 (zǒuba).
168 – 一六八 (yīliùbā) – Very lucky. This sounds like 一祿發 (yīlùfā), which means to have good fortune.
250 二百五 (èrbǎiwǔ) – Stupid (As Laowai Chinese points out, 250 grams is half of a 斤 (jìn) (500 grams), so 250 has come to mean half a brain.
520 – 我愛你 (wǒàinǐ) – I love you.
530 – 我想你 (wǒxiǎngnǐ) – I miss you. / I’m thinking of you.
534 – 五三四 (wǔsānsì) – This sounds like 我想這 (wǒxiāngzhè). When this is pronounced in Taiwanese, it sounds like 哇想死 (wāxiǎngsǐ), which means I want to die. (you are embarrassed or you embarrassed someone and you feel bad.)
880 – 抱抱你 (bàobàonǐ) – I hug you.
886 – 八八六 (bābāliù) – Bye bye. This sounds like 拜拜囉 (báibáiluó) / 拜拜了 (báibáile). (Luó and le are common sentence ending sounds.)
0987 – 零九八七 (língjiǔbāqī) – In Taiwanese, this sounds like línzhùbéiqī), which sounds like the Taiwanese pronunciation of 你很白痴 (nǐhěnbáichī), which means “You’re an idiot.”
1314 – 一三一四 (yīsānyīsì). Forever; all my life; a whole lifetime. This sounds like 一生一世 (yīshēngyīshì).
2266 – 二二六六 (èrèrliùliù) – (Taiwanese – sounds like 零零落落 (línglínglàlà) or lìlìlàlà) – The way you do things is very sloppy (meant as a kind of insult as to how someone performs a particular act).
3180 – When written out, the 3 and 1 overlap (三 and 一 becomes 王) and when the 8 and 0 are added, you get 王八0, where the 0 represents the Chinese word for egg, dàn. Put it together and you’ve got 王八蛋(wángbādàn) which means bastard. Obviously, a very impolite name to call someone.
5987 – 五九八七 (wǔjiǔbāqī) – In Taiwanese, this sounds like wāzhùbéiqī), which sounds like the Taiwanese pronunciation of 我很白痴 (wǒhěnbáichī), which means “I’m an idiot.”
搭11號公車 (dāshíyīhàogōngchē) – As Laowai Chinese points out, 搭11號公車 literally means “Take bus #11” but the 1s are supposed to represent legs, so it means to walk somewhere.
三好加一好 (sānhàojiāyīhào) – 三號加一號 means “3 + 1,” the answer to which is 4 / 四號 (sìhào). This sounds very similar to 死好, which when pronounced in Taiwanese (xīhēi) means “You deserve what you get.” or “You deserve it.” or “You deserve death.” If someone does something stupid, for example, you would tell them 三好加一好 to tell them that they got what they deserve.
Are there any others out there that you know of? Leave a comment if you know more!