Chinese number talk

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Earlier today the Cantabilious Musa tweeted their video ‘How to speak with numbers in Chinese’, which is an excellent way to start a Sunday when you’ve woken up too late to do anything constructive with the morning:

As a language nerd I was (predictably) enthralled by someone producing sounds I can’t understand; as a mathmo a part of my brain wondered what kind of properties all these numbers would have as numbers, and it hasn’t quite stopped yet. So what better way to discharge all this activity than to blog about it? Why yes, that’s what I thought too.

In the video 32 (25 😀 ) numbers are talked about, and if I spend time considering all the possible cool stuff about all of these, there’s no way I’ll be done before the end of June. So I’ll restrict myself to prime factorisations, because this is one aspect of numbers where I actually have a delineated scale of beauty. Which basically means I’ve spent too much time thinking about it.

To wit (cf OE witan, because did I mention I’m a language nerd?), in descending order of loveliness:

  1. primes;
  2. numbers with a factorisation of two distinct primes;
  3. prime powers;
  4. numbers with a factorisation of three distinct primes;
  5. numbers with a factorisation of more than three distinct primes; and
  6. the rest.
  7. No, I don’t include 1.

Feel free to quibble with my order of preferences as much as you’d like. If I’m honest, the lower you get in the list, the more prone to shifting you are. This is because I favour some primes over others, and if one of those primes appears in a number’s DNA, then it might just make me ignore the 2 or 3 repeated a gazillion times. In general, however, the world needs to realise that mixed factorisations, with repeated primes in, are nasty.

The 32 numbers mentioned in the video can be split up into five groups (part of my brain is telling me to say ‘sets’ instead of ‘groups’ arrrrgh): Death, General, Insults, Sappy, and Very Sappy. Let’s go!


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  • 4 = 2 x 2 – Death
    2² is decent, but nothing to get all excited about or anything.
  • 14 = 2 x 7 – Want to die
    It’s all right (‘got a nice bounce to it’ – name that numberphile video). The 7 is prettier than the 2 though, let’s admit it.
  • 514 = 11 x 47 – I want to die
    Now we’re talking about it (I don’t mean suicide). 11 is able to carry his own weight, and 47? Yeah baby.
  • 914 = 2 x 457 – Almost dead
    I’m confused on this one, but I think it lands on the prettier side. Any dullness exuded by 2 has got to be outweighed by zomg 457 yeeehaw!
  • 714 = 2 x 3 x 7 x 11 – Wife want to die
    I can see why she wants to die. This thing really does make me nervous. Where’s it going to go? What’s it going to do? Four prime factors and they’re all young and silly enough to be dangerous. Not to be trusted on the roads. Especially on a bike.
  • 814 = 2 x 11 x 37 – Dad wants to die
    No, Dad, don’t do it!! The 11 and 37 balance it out. There is hope. Don’t give up!


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  • 56 = 2³ x 7 – Bored
    Living up to its prime factorisation there. Ick.
  • 456 = 2³ x 3 x 19 – It’s me laaah!
    The repeated 2s make this almost as silly as the faux-Asians who use it on whatever the modern equivalent of ICQ is, but that 19, damn, that 19….
  • 5366 = 2 x 2683 – I want to chat
    Ok. I’ll chat with 5366. Just let me take some medicine first to control the palpitations.
  • 3399 = 3 x 11 x 103 – Forever
    I love 3399 forever. Well, perhaps forever minus one day because of that 3. But thanks to transcendental arithmetic, that makes no difference whatsoever.
  • 775 = 5² x 31 – Give me kiss…kiss.
    Erm, well, all right, but only because 2 is in the exponent and you’ve got a 31 in there, sir.
  • 995 = 5 x 199 – Save me!
  • 1314 = 2 x 3² x 73 – Forever this life
    Forever schmorever. 73 might have a hope of saving 1314, but quite frankly, if the Battle of Bannockburn hasn’t already done so, I’m not liking those odds.
  • 520 = 2³ x 5 x 13 – I love you
    Really? I don’t think you do, somehow.
  • 918 = 2 x 3³ x 17 – Add oil
    Ok look, we’ve got a prime primed in here, which mitigates things somewhat. Combined with 17, this could make the whole an acceptable entity. But oil? Ew.
  • 168 = 2³ x 3 x 7 – Rich all the way
    Not with that 8 lounging around there you won’t be. Although these are Chinese numbers, and 8 is a good number for them, so who knows?
  • 282 = 2 x 3 x 47 – Hungry?
    along with…
  • 246 = 2 x 3 x 41 – Starving to death
    These two together just make me happy 😀
  • 8384 = 26 x 131 – Dubious
    Ok, I know I said repeated fractions aren’t the greatest things floating around, but when you’ve gotten to a sixth power you kind of have to give it credit for stubbornness at the very least. That combined with a palindromic prime – can I say primal palindrome? – and, well, yes please.
  • 740 = 2² x 5 x 37 – So angry at you.
    Damn straight. Look at 37 sitting there all macho and bolshy. I want 740 on my side in a fight, thanks.
  • 8006 = 2 x 4003 – Don’t care about you anymore.
    When you first see 8006 you kind of give up on it immediately. I mean, really? How do you even get out of bed in the mornings?
    And then you see that DNA. And the sheer bizarreness of 4003 being prime makes it ok. 8006 is ok. In fact 8006 is sublime, but I’m kind of afraid to say that in case 8006 just points and laughs at me.
  • 555 = 3 x 5 x 37 – Crying
    The factorisation here is much better than the number itself, which is a bit boring. But looks are deceiving in this case – this DNA is good, solid and dependable. Clasp your 555 and do not let it go.


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These four numbers are each, in their own way, pretty badass. In the first two a leading zero is included for the sake of the phonetics, but of course that doesn’t make any difference to the factorisation. Or, in the case of 487, the non-factorisation, because

487 is PRIME, ladies and gentlemen! ♥

Whiee! The only prime in the whole video and it’s used to inform someone he’s an idiot. I can’t help but think there have to be better uses for a prime than to belittle someone, but I didn’t make the rules here. So. Finish off that celebratory ice cream (what…you don’t have celebratory ice cream when you come across a prime?) and let’s press on.

  • 07382 = 2 x 3691 – You are wicked and cruel
    That 3691, with the 3-6-9 sequence in it, makes this number. This is the kind of insult I can use in daily life without compromising my principles. I’ll give you wicked and cruel anyday. Yeah. Take that.
  • 38 = 2 x 19 – B*tch
    A bit of a comedown after the two previous giants, let’s be honest. But that’s somewhat unfair because that simple and elegant breakdown, especially with 19 in it, is nothing to be sniffed at.
  • 250 = 2 x 5³ – idiot, or snitch/traitor
    I’m going to give 250 here points for his digits being reduplicated in his factorisation. In addition, according to the video it’s a relatively new piece of slang, and NKOTB deserve a chance (what the real NKOTB did with that chance…I’m not going to comment).


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Oh my word. I’m only including these because otherwise I’d have left some numbers from the video out, and I don’t care what Gödel says, I’m not playing his incompleteness game.

  • 70 = 2 x 5 x 7 – Kiss you
    I’ll give you a peck on the cheek for simplicity, and for being the threshold for getting a 1st (I’m not bitter. Much).
  • 360 = 2³ x 3² x 5 – Missing you
    Well with all those factors rolling about, I’m not surprised! I’d be missing half my books if I had a character like that.
    On the other hand, there being 360° in a circle, it occurs to me that I can use this to help kids remember the stuff about degrees and angles that they’re doing their best to learn right now. Poor kids!
  • 530 = 2 x 5 x 53 – I’m thinking of you
    This is like the line someone says to you when he doesn’t really mean it. Because if he did mean it, he wouldn’t endanger that nice 53-ness with two small primes. Besides, 53 is kind of the prime that honestly spends too much time down the pub.

Very Sappy

Oh dear Lord.

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Oh gosh.

It’s ok, there are only three of these. Put on an apron and wash it well afterwards.

  • 2 010 000 = 24 x 3 x 54 x 67 – Love you for 10 000 years
    Yeah. With you walking in and traipsing all that around…you’d better.
  • 5 201 314 = 2 x 53 x 49069 – Love you for entire life
    The first thing I saw in this number was the rather pathetic 1314 floating around. But seeing as digits say something about addition rather than multiplication, all is not lost! 49069 is a beast you just have to accept exactly as he is; there are rough edges on him, but to be quite honest as a prime number greater than 1000 you expect some battle scares as composites can be pretty unpleasant when they gang up on you. 53’s off at a respectful distance and 2 is just cowering in a corner. Muahahahahahahahaha!
  • 3 344 520 = 2³ x 3 x 5 x 47 x 593 – Love you for eternity all my life time
    No. Just no.

My goodness, that was a post and a half! I’m off to make myself a cup of tea and watch The Stereotypical Asian Drama:


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