Secret Messages in URLs: Decoding

Secret Messages in URLs: Decoding

The New Republic’s Christopher Beam explains the popularity in China of apparently inscrutable numerical web addresses:

[…] For many Chinese, numbers are easier to remember than Latin characters. Sure, Chinese learn the pinyin system that uses the Roman alphabet to spell out words (for example, the word for “Internet,” 网络, is spelled wangluo in pinyin). And yes, Arabic numerals (1-2-3) are technically just as much a import as the Roman alphabet (A-B-C). But most Chinese are more familiar with numbers than letters, especially those who didn’t go to college. To many, “” might as well be Cyrillic.

[…] Digits are even more convenient when you consider that the words for numbers are homophones for other words. The URL for the massive site Alibaba, for example, is, pronounced “yow-leeyoh-ba-ba”—close enough! Those digits can just as often have individual meanings. The video sharing site works because the word for “six” is a near-homophone for the word “to stream.” The number five is pronounced wu, which sounds like wo, which means “I.” The number one is pronounced yao, which with a different tone means “want.” So the job-hunting site sounds a lot like “I want a job.” Likewise, to order ’ delivery online, just go to, the “517” of which sounds a bit like “I want to eat.” […] [Source]

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