Why Is It Called Octopus Card?

We use it everyday paying for our bus or train ride, parking, merchandise at groceries or convenience shops, fastfood outlets, building passes, school attendances or vending machines.

But maybe we don’t know much about why it is called Octopus card. We’ll try to dig deeper into history and transcend into another language.

Octopus card is also known as baat tat tung (八達通) in Cantonese which means “eight-arrived pass” though “go everywhere pass” is a more accepted meaning.

The name was adopted after a 1996 naming competition conducted by the MTR, which manages part of Hong Kong’s subway system at the time (in 2006 MTR merged with the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation into a collective MTR railway system).

The first character number eight (八) refers to the cardinal and ordinal directions, and, according to Wikipedia, the four-character idiom sei tùng baat daaht (四通八達), is a common expression loosely translated as “reachable in all directions”.

In Chinese culture, the number 8 is considered lucky, and the phrase ‘baat tat’ (八達) can be associated with a similarly-sounding ‘faat tat’ (發達) which means getting wealthy in Cantonese.

The English counterpart, Octopus card, was also selected from the same naming competition since the sea creature coincidentally also has eight tentacles.

Since its inception in 1997, the Octopus card has gone a long way, and earning the reputation as the world’s leading complex automatic fare collection and contactless smartcard payment system.

The Octopus card system currently has more than 20 million cards in circulation, almost three times Hong Kong’s population. It generates around 12 million transactions worth over HK$130 million a day.

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