Our relationship with numbers - a brief
One and zero
The number one is not just the first prime number, but also the only even prime number. It's also the only integer that is neither even nor odd. Zero is both odd and even, making it unique as well as extremely useful in mathematics!
The concept of zero evolved over thousands of years, starting with what were known as "placeholders." You can still see these today in things like Roman numerals and other ancient systems: when a particular place value wasn't needed or needed to be skipped over (for example, if there were no kings), then a symbol for "nothing" was used instead—usually an empty space or a dot or cross within some sort of circle shape. In this sense, zero has been around since ancient times—but its use wasn't fully developed until much later on in history.
The number seven is considered a lucky number by many cultures. This can be attributed to the fact that seven days make up a week and there are seven deadly sins. Seven also represents the colours of the rainbow, as well as the seven wonders of the world and seven notes in a musical scale. There are also seven dwarfs from Disney's Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs films alongside countless other examples of this widely held belief.
Four is an important number in Chinese culture, as well as many other cultures. The word for "four" is composed of the characters for "death" and "mother". In China, numbers are used for general concepts rather than specific objects. This can be seen in their use of four seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter) instead of designating each season by name (March/April...December/January). It also extends into other concepts: they don't use numbers as much to count things because they prefer to count objects by quantity directly instead; this means that we would say "I have two apples" but they'd say something like "I have more than one apple", which means exactly the same thing!
The number four is associated with justice because there's an old Chinese proverb that says: "The sky has four sides; there are four seasons; people live within four walls; there are four cardinal points." The cardinal virtues are also associated with this number since it represents temperance (moderation), courage or bravery against adversity etcetera.
The number eight is considered to be an auspicious number in Chinese culture. In fact, it has been used so much that the word for "lucky" in Chinese (财), sounds exactly like the word for "eight". Some examples of idioms using this number include:
8点48分 (一) be completely drunk at 8pm
8点48分 (二) one too many drinks after work
Nine is the highest single-digit number and the sum of three consecutive numbers: 2+3+4 = 9. It's also the number of months in a human pregnancy. People with synesthesia often report a sensation of intimidation when exposed to the "giant" number Nine.
The number three is sacred in many cultures and holds deep significance. In Western folklore, there are three wishes granted to people who find genies, fairies and leprechauns. Unicorns have three horns.
- When a person finds a genie he or she can ask for as many wishes as they want; however, the tradition is to limit yourself to three (although this is often ignored).
- Fairies are very similar but tend to grant only one wish per visitor. They also tend not to give specific answers when asked what their home dimensions look like or how they came into existence—and if you're lucky enough to see one live in person? Don't expect any favors from them even though your family has been interacting with them for generations!
- Leprechauns share similar characteristics with fairies; however, they usually only grant one wish per visitor before making an exit through whatever crack/rabbit hole/portal they came through originally—so make it count!
You may be familiar with the concept of a "double digit" number. These are numbers that are made up of two single digits, and they often hold special significance in our culture. The most obvious example is the number 11—as in, "I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you." If you're into numerology, it's probably also not lost on you that any number can be broken down into its base elements: 1+1=2; 2+0=2; 1+2=3; etc.
So what's so special about double digits? In short, they represent relationships (particularly romantic ones). For example, if your name is Sam and your partner's name is Tiffany then your relationship could be seen as represented by 11111111—the sum total of all possible ways these two people could interact with each other (including via text messages or phone calls).
Numbers that spell words or short phrases
Once you move beyond the numbers 1 through 9, things get a little more interesting. The number of the beast is 666, but it gets a bit more complicated from there.
There are several other infamous number combinations that have been used as symbols for different things:
- 789 (Osama bin Laden's supposed lucky number)
- 1237 (the 'one true god' in some Christian sects)
- 4444 (the year that Jesus Christ was born)
In Chinese culture, numbers are sometimes used to spell words or short phrases:
- eight sounds like 'prosperity' and resembles an old-style coin; thus eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture
- nine sounds like 'long life'; thus nine is considered lucky in Chinese culture
Phrases you can actually curse at
How many times have you been at a loss for words in a foreign language? If it's any comfort, we've all been there. And the next time you find yourself struggling with pronouncing numbers in German, Spanish or French, just remember: it could be worse.
In German and Spanish, for example, "nine" sounds like "nein," which translates to no. In French it's even worse—you could say non-un instead of neuf. But hey! At least they're not as bad as the French word for seven: sept ("sapt").