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No, 7 written as '7' never means 'penis', not even in Hong Kong...

The current prize winner for most desperate attempt to earn negative attention during an iPhone launch goes to Quartz:

The slogan for Apple's new iPhone 7 translates into "This is penis" in Hong Kong.

7 written as 7 always and only means 7. It also doesn't "translate" into anything in Hong Kong.

I only took Cantonese, the language spoken in Hong Kong and Guangdong, for a year — the tones were too complex and I switched to Mandarin for another two years — but for obvious reasons I was taught about sound collisions early on, including this one. At least enough to call bullshit on Quartz:

When pronounced in Cantonese, if you didn't actually speak Cantonese and got it wrong, you could mistakenly say a very similar sound that means "penis", same way that if you said 4 in Cantonese you could mistakenly say a very similar sound to "death", but that's a factor of the language, not of Apple's marketing.

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Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

45 Comments
  • Well I suppose this lends new meaning to the troll websites that have a “hard on” for Apple.
  • Hey, Quartz, "Hong Kong" isn't a language! Sent from the iMore App
  • The number 7 and the peeenis word 柒 indeed sound subtly different, but HKers actually often make puns out of them (not trying to sound immature, but the actual spelling of that word gets censored). You'd know this if you spend enough time with native HKers, don't just take account of what you've learned in one year of Cantonese classes. They're laughing about the Canto version of "this is 7" on HK Facebook pages and online forums, Quartz isn't wrong. HKers are making fun of Samsung's Note 7 as well. If you read "Note" with a heavy honger accent, "Note 7" would sound like "look tsat" (碌柒), which explicitly means "the peeenis" (where "look" is the unit counter of cylindrical objects). I didn't make this up, I heard this from numerous friends during my visit to Hong Kong just two weeks ago.
  • I've been to HK and Guangzhou several times. I studied southern Chinese culture in my college years.
  • There are subtleties in many languages that aren't easy for non-natives to catch on. As I've said, the number 7 and the peenis word sounds subtly different as you've pointed out in the article, and you're right that locals could effortlessly tell the difference. But locals would cheerfully say 柒 (the peenis word) in place of 七 (seven) for the laughs. Examples? "7 is here", Note 7, etc. I appreciate that you had enough interest in southern Chinese culture to study it, and I have no doubt you have a better understand of Canto than a good number of westerners. But I stand by the points that I've given above, given that I've grown up in Hong Kong till age 16, and that native Hong Kong friends agree with my points.
  • Absolutely, I was pointing out that Apple didn't pronounce 7 in any language or dialect, they wrote the number '7'. That symbol is not confusable in Hong Kong.
  • Well, it's not confusable but people in Hong Kong do use the word 柒 as profanity to mean "stupid" or to refer to penises. For example, 你碌柒 means "your *****". The word 柒, however, is also the traditional character for 7 before the simplified character of 七 was used in Southern China as well. Because of this kids in Hong Kong very often just use the number symbol "7" to say you're stupid (你好7) or your ***** (你碌7).
  • Schooled. It's amazing how Rene is attempting to "inform" us about how people use dialect or symbols in a different language, based on taking a 1-year college course on a language that he himself admits he had to quit on since it was too complex for him
  • Very funny. I have to say, I initially thought people were coming down a little hard on Renee from time to time, but the more I read of his biased writing/Apple PR, the more I agree with the claims hat iMore is going downhill. It's an Apple site, sure, but as a reasonable person that isn't a 'fanboy' of anything, it's becoming quite tiring. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't see how this is biased, he's just explaining why this is stupid because there's no confusion whatsoever for native speakers of the language
  • It wasn't this article in particular that I was referring to about the bias, more as a whole. This particular article is amusing in the fact that he is disputing the language usage of native speakers with 1 years worth of study. I've studied Spanish for several years and consider myself to be to at good level (something Renee himself professed not to be), but if my wife or friends who are a native speakers call me out on something, I certainly wouldn't say they were wrong. That's just ignorant! Sent from the iMore App
  • No, there's no confusion. It's a pun that native speakers find amusing.
  • If you've spent 1 year learning a language you would know enough to know that the two words can't be confused
  • So Renee is right and native speakerS (notice the plurality) are wrong? Seems legit... Sent from the iMore App
  • 你好7
  • Thanks for censoring out my comment....NOT!
    You make a culturally insensitive, racially discriminatory comment like this where simply on the basis of visiting the region a few times, and studying at an undergrad level for a few years, you think you know better than people who've spoken the language all their lives, and you have the gall to delete my comment?
    By your logic, if I eat fish a few times a week, and even cook it myself every now and again, that makes me an expert in the fisheries industry...
    Rene, don't confuse your awareness of the limited field of Apple/iOS products to mean you are equipped to make critical comments on the area of linguistics and the use of language in cultures of which you have no working knowledge....
    in other words, Rene, don't be such a "7"!!
  • Best. Comment. Ever. TOLD! Sent from the iMore App
  • If you've spent 1 year learning a language you would know enough to know that the two words can't be confused.
  • You're missing the point, and thus displaying your total ignorance. let me try and help your stupidity... The issue is NOT that someone would be confused and make a mistake. The point is that people are intentionally using the similarities as an in-joke. Sort of like a pun. Say a pun to someone who is a non-native speaker, they usually don't get it. native speakers, on the other hand, do get it.
  • "I've been to HK and Guangzhou several times. I studied southern Chinese culture in my college years." I still can't believe a white person would actually say this to prove he's right and HK-ers are wrong on cultural slang!!! I think Rene needs to withdraw this statement and apologise
  • So they must laugh from western people, in some countries we tell "lucky number 7"
    I hope "*****" will bring luck for them as well. Sent from the iMore App
  • Hahaha.. I see what you trying say since my mother tongue are Cantonese and Mandarin. Posted via the iMore App from Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
  • People can be so silly sometimes. 7 has nothing to do with penises, regardless of which language you're speaking.
  • Let's just agree to settle this and stop being 7s about it.
  • I don't care. I just want my pen*s phone delivered on the 16th!
  • Awww...Rene deleted the comments he didn't like Sent from the iMore App
  • Only thing Rene is good at... Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Yet your comment is still on here.
  • Rene doesn't mod the comments sections. We don't remove posts unless they are spam, or if they cross the line. There are also a set of filters in place... so there's that too. The same rules apply to the comments as they do to the forums.
  • (Hey, I was censored for using a correct anatomical term, are we children here?) Bummer. I was rather looking forward to learning something from the iPhone Pen-is hands-on articles.
  • What did I just read?
  • "Words are hard."
  • I really don't want to say this, RENE couldn't be objective if it came up and bit him on the backside concerning an iPhone. I mean that whole the holes don't align Fiasco from him Nikehono and Samuel ng is absolutely right it is sort of a running joke over there. Asked my husband about this, and we also have a foreign exchange student from hung hom, basically a suburb of Hong Kong. My husband teaches at a university. Before I met my husband he lived and worked in Hong Kong. Basically echoed what Nick and Samuel ng said sent via Tandy color computer
  • Rene is objective, and the holes not aligning is genuinely bad design, it just looks odd
  • What about the Apple Watch the buttons and crown don’t line up. Bad design too?
  • The crown is intentionally offset forwards. (If it had an equal overhang backwards, it would catch on your wrist.)
  • Oh please. The crown on my divers watch isn’t and I’m pretty sure that. Even if that were true, why didn’t they choose to line up the lock button with it also? You know, just for the sake of clean design. Take a good look at loads of other brands of watch, know what - they ain’t either. It’s higgledy piggledy and you know it. It’s astounding what excuses people will come up with to defend Apple.
    LOL, ‘Well Apple have ruined it intentionally so that’s alright’.
  • Ha. Are you serious? Too funny!
  • You just earned yourself a spot in the same boat as Renee! Sent from the iMore App
  • Glad I've got the 7 plus
  • @robertopod, I see what you did there - well played sir, well played. You stand tall and proudly hold that 7 plus of your's high for all to marvel at.
    ;-)
  • Okay, let's dispel the argument right now. Rene is correct in that 7 doesn't translate to *****, however the other commenters are correct that they joke about it due to the similarity. In western culture thongs are sandals generally referred to as flip flops, they are also an under garment, jokes ensue. Same thing. Everyone is right, it's done. Sent from the iMore App
  • Rarely. In fact this is the first time I have ever heard that. EVER.
  • "Thongs" referring to flipflops is a uniquely Australian term.
  • Thankyou for updating me. That would suggest that the term used above me, “In western culture thongs are sandals generally…………….”, is a little over generalised.