The Number 9

“Except during the nine months before he draws his first breath, no man manages his affairs as well as a tree does.” – George Bernard Shaw

Lucky nine

Nine has a mystical reputation in many cultures. To the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, an eight-note chord (or octave) represented man, so nine was the deity.

Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle

Illustration of Pythagoras in the Nuremberg Chronicle

In Christianity, it triples the power of the Trinity and there are nine orders of angels and nine gates to hell. In Egyptian mythology, the nine most important gods were collectively known as the Ennead.

One of its many Sanskrit names is chhidra, the name for the (nine) orifices of the human body. In China, nine was lucky because its name, jiu, also meant “long-lasting”. The Chinese dragon, symbol of power, has nine forms, nine attributes and nine children (Kowloon means “nine dragons”).

In European folk magic, many charms and spells involve repeating an action nine times or gathering nine objects. Positive connotations survive in “dressed up to the nines” and “cloud nine”, though no one knows the phrases’ precise origins.

Unlucky nine

In Japanese, ku, the word for nine, also means pain, so it tends to be avoided as a number for floors, rooms and parking bays.

Since the early 18th century, the nine of diamonds is known as the Curse of Scotland. One suggestion for the reason is that every ninth king of Scotland is a tyrant; another that it was the winning card in a card game called comette, to which many Scots were addicted; others point to the story that the Duke of Cumberland, the Bloody Butcher, wrote his order to kill hostages on the card after the battle of Culloden in 1746.

In classical music, the curse of the ninth stems from the surprising number of major composers who died after completing nine symphonies, including Beethoven, Schubert, Dvor√°k and Vaughan Williams.

Nine words

A quarter of all words used in English are the nine words: the, of, and, to, it, you, be, have and will.

Nine islands

Flag ~ Tuvalu

Flag of Tuvalu

The nine islands of Tuvalu (formerly the Ellice Islands) in the South Pacific make up the world’s fourth smallest independent nation.

Tuvalu means “cluster of eight”, although there are nine islands. This is because the smallest, Niulakita, was only settled in 1949. Despite having no TV, Tuvula owns 20 per cent of the rights in the domain name. This earns Tuvula AUS$4 million a year and has allowed it to end links with the phone sex services to which Tuvalu used to lease its 688-phone code, a policy that upset its predominantly Christian population.


Quite why an ice cream cone with a Cadbury’s Flake in it is called a 99, no one knows for sure. It was first recorded in 1935 and one theory is that it derived from a brand of wafer cone stamped with 99 by the manufacturer Askeys, set up by Italian immigrants in London in 1910. A second is that another Italian ice cream family, the Acaris of Edinburgh, named it after their shop at 99 Portobello Road.


999 was chosen as the emergency number because it was easy to remember and to dial, and because call boxes could easily be adapted to allow free calls on it. Before that, emergency calls had involved an operator, who recommended phoning Scotland Yard on Whitehall 1212.

In November 1935, a fire in Wimpole Street, London, killed five people after the switchboard jammed. The tragedy prompted the world’s first “single number” emergency system. It was first used on July 8, 1937 at 4.20am when Mrs Beard of Elsworthy Road, Hampstead, reported seeing a burglar. Thomas Duffy, 24, was arrested as a result.

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