April Fools makes me nervous, but I wanted to celebrate so I looked for foolish facts to find something worth sharing. I found Tetraphobia, the fear of the number 4.
In Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and several other languages the pronunciation of the word for 4 is similar to the pronunciation of the word for death. This has developed an aversion to 4 so profound in East and Southeast Asia it should not be mentioned at festivals or near ill relatives. Numbers that contain 4 like 14, 40, etc are also avoided. Telephone numbers, license plates, addresses, they all omit this threatening number.
What fascinates me isn’t the extent of the aversion but how it developed in the first place. We know the words are similar, but that isn’t a full answer because these languages didn’t arrive from nowhere. They developed over time, and the same people who used this sound to express 4 were using something nearly identical to express death. Why did this happen? How quickly?
I mean no cultural disrespect by examining this superstition. Of course I can find no truly satisfying origin for Triskaidekaphobia, the Western aversion to 13, either. In that case there isn’t even a pronunciation clue. It’s how many people were at the alleged Last Supper, one number off our current number of months, and might have once been considered auspicious, just like the Swastika.
So which bizarre 21st century tics will future humans wonder about? What foolishness is currently developing into a universally accepted superstition?