In Afghanistan, the number 39 is a dirty word

Just as many Americans avoid the number 13, a growing number of people in this wartorn country fear number 39 as it is associated with prostitution.

HUFFPO  “This was a very small issue. Now it has grown big,” Haji Wafa, head of Car Dealer’s Union 218, told Al Jazeera. If a car has a “39” anywhere on the registration plate — similar to a VIN number in the United States — the car is simply unwanted. Wafa says he has been unable to sell one car that he purchased more than a year ago with a registration number of 7398 — even at a 30% price reduction.

The stigma behind the number began to spread last year. According to NPR, no one knows for sure why the number has become so taboo so quickly. One theory: 39 reportedly translates to morda-gow, which means “dead cow.” It is also a slang term for a pimp.

To avoid being ostracized and harassed, some car owners with a 39 on their registration plates are illegally altering the plates and covering up the numbers. Others are anxious to get rid of their cars. “People think that I am a real pimp and since I have women in my car, they perceive that I am doing business with the women,” Abdul Samad, a Kabul taxi driver whose car plates include the number 39, told NDTV.