Why is 7 the most feared number?



I was in a computer programming training. A code executed an output number 7 and the trainer asked ( assuming joking) "Why is 7 the most feared number?" and someone said "Because 7,8,9 ... aho ho ho.."

was the expression very native or idiomatic? what does this mean?


Posted 2017-01-17T10:43:34.693

Reputation: 1 145

1Because seven was a six offender :P – jla – 2019-11-06T04:30:21.657



Heh, because "Seven Ate Nine (7, '8,' 9)."

Ate = Eight.

Teacher KSHuang

Posted 2017-01-17T10:43:34.693

Reputation: 3 670

1I've heard a variation on this. "Why did 4 run away from 5? Because five sic'ed seven" which plays on the British slang phrase "sic" meaning "to attack". – Bob Tway – 2017-01-19T15:36:50.787


@MattThrower, you mean like this, yes?

– Teacher KSHuang – 2017-01-20T11:13:54.017

1@TeacherKSHuang Yes, that's right. I had no idea it had made it into an official dictionary: had presumed it slang. – Bob Tway – 2017-01-20T11:38:09.093


It's a children's joke, nothing more. It's certainly not something one would encounter in everyday conversation.

The number pattern 7, 8, 9 sounds identical to seven ate nine in spoken form. A similar joke is depicted here:

enter image description here


Posted 2017-01-17T10:43:34.693

Reputation: 9 509

Search for "Barenaked ladies 7 8 9" for more 9 puns than you ever wanted to see. – Werrf – 2017-01-17T21:11:30.757

45Fun fact: The Turkish word for 7 ("yedi") is the same as the Turkish word for "ate". And verbs come after objects in Turkish, so you can tell this joke in Turkish as "Why was 4 afraid of 5? Because 5 6 7!" – Dan Staley – 2017-01-17T22:21:13.657

1My daughter and her friend ask a version of this style of joke-question but their elaborately concocted answer replaces the 7-8-9 joke with a very dark (and very extended) story about 7's many behavioural and personality issues arising from psychological trauma from his experiences in 'Nam -- puncturing the expectation of the simple childish word-play in the original joke (in anticipation that you already know the joke, piggybacking an entirely different kind of joke on top of it) – Glen_b – 2017-01-18T00:51:02.300

11My daughers used to say it in Spanish (where, of course, the joke makes no sense at all). – Martin Argerami – 2017-01-18T03:12:33.453

27This image is quite disturbing – user541686 – 2017-01-18T07:08:26.860

7Even though I have known the joke since I was a child, the graphic made me (actually) laugh out loud. +1 for that alone! – yshavit – 2017-01-18T07:27:37.683

2@DanStaley Of course, this will lose the added "extra" that 6 and 9 look so similar, giving 6 the more reason to worry. – Angew is no longer proud of SO – 2017-01-18T09:54:21.067

1@DanStaley don't you mean 6, 7, 8? – TheWanderer – 2017-01-18T15:08:26.963

1@Zacharee1in Turkish verbs come after objects. So I love you becomes I you love. – corsiKa – 2017-01-18T16:50:03.500


To add to Mike's excellent answer, the first time I was introduced to this joke was in a lesson about homophones. As as child this silly joke was a perfect example, and much easier to understand then something like "Did the two of you go to the park too?"

Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled and mean different things. For example ate (past tense for eat) and eight (the number).

In the case of eight and ate, even children can tell when to use them. But with too, to, and two, many adults can't even tell when they are being properly used.

Some really common English homophones are:

  • two, too, to
  • they're, there, their
  • eight, ate
  • then, than
  • buy,by
  • are, our

As a child, many of them are too confusing to easily tackle, but ate and eight, are simple. Especially if you write 8 instead of ate. And so this little, simplistic joke was used to demonstrate homophones, and how getting them wrong could change the meaning of the sentence.


Posted 2017-01-17T10:43:34.693

Reputation: 317

5and plenty of native English-speaking adults still don't know the difference between their, there and they're :P – Robin Hartland – 2017-01-19T03:26:34.787


I don't think then & than or are & our are homophones. The pronunciation is different. Maybe near misses such as tense, tents or caret, carrot.

– Felix Eve – 2017-01-19T05:59:15.273

4@FelixEve: One dialect's near misses are likely to be another's homophones. Like you, I distinguish then and than, are and our, but I know other dialects don't (certainly American English tends to merge are and our). But then, I would say I don't distinguish caret and carrot. (Perth, by the way... your profile says Melbourne?) – Tim Pederick – 2017-01-19T08:15:50.770

Live in Melbourne, from the UK. But yes, I think you make a valid point. It's a bit wishy washy, not a solid line. – Felix Eve – 2017-01-19T09:19:38.107

4I used to teach English as a foreign language. In the more advanced classes, where homophones (and naturally, the topic of puns) came up, I always introduced the lesson with a classic pun: Why was the little Egyptian boy confused? Because his daddy was a mummy. – flith – 2017-01-19T13:25:48.630

@FelixEve As an American, I barely distinguish between then and than, and many people around me don't at all. Are and our are usually identical, although we can overemphasize 'our' to make it clear if need be (which makes it sound exactly like hour). Tense / tents and caret / carrot are definitely identical. – DCShannon – 2017-01-19T22:12:28.803

The presence or lack of a particular set of homophones is a good way to identify accents. A famous one is the "cot/caught" merger, which also applies to "not" and "naught", "tot" and "taught", "bot" and "bought", and the names "Don" and "Dawn". Another famous set is the Marry, Merry, Mary merger. To get an idea of where an American is from, ask him to say "Mary bought a bot from Dawn right before she married Don. Merry Christmas!"

– Robert Columbia – 2017-01-20T02:07:56.537

1native English person: then/than are never confused. However prince/prints and mints/mince are homophones, but it takes awhile to accept this as true as you start trying to over pronounce the T to make them sound different – LongTailedY – 2017-01-20T12:02:08.773