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I was looking at Singapore Mandarin from the question here on Hong Kong Mandarin and came across the word for cellphone. I know it's popular now to refer to cellphones as 手机 but I remember in Taiwan they used to call it 大哥大. (I don't know if they still use this term).

I have never thought about it until now but does anyone know why it was called 大哥大? It's a very strange use of characters.

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There is a provider called 台灣大哥大 (Taiwan Mobile) in Taiwan. – mrjimoy_05 Feb 7 '14 at 6:39
We refer to some very old and big cellphones as 大哥大 in Hong Kong too. – Polyethylene Feb 7 '14 at 7:30
It was called so in mainland China, too, before the size of mobile phones greatly reduced when people began to call it 手机 – user58955 Feb 7 '14 at 8:49
In Taiwan, you are correct. It is quaint among the younger generation, only old peope will use 大哥大 instead of 手機. – ash Jun 23 '14 at 18:44
up vote 7 down vote accepted

According to one of the rumours, the first cellphone was used and introduced by Sammo Hung, which is the elder kung-fu brother of Jackie Chan. Since at that time Hong Kong entertainment was fairly respected in nearly the whole East and Southeast Asia, most people showed their respect to call Jackie Chan as 大哥 and his elder kung-fu brother Sammo Hung as 大哥大.

Then, clearly the cellphone being used by 大哥大 is 大哥大電話. However, after a while, most people simplified the usage and just used 大哥大 only.

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I did a search and found an explanation is it's a term for gang leader in the Hong Kong & Macau triad (黑社会). Cellphones were very rare and was a sign of the wealthy. Usually a gang boss would have one. Very interesting. Sammo Hung must have had a dark past if he was called 大哥大. I don't really know their history but I do know at the very least that Jackie Chan used to be in a gang. Interesting stuff! – amateur Feb 7 '14 at 8:59
I am adding a resource – einverne Feb 8 '14 at 3:11
You should mention what user58955 stated in the comments - the term was fairly standard in common speech in mainland China, before it was replaced by 手机 due to the miniaturisation of the device. – deutschZuid Feb 9 '14 at 22:28
The Sammo Hung story isn't a rumour. As a HKer who has witnessed the demise of pagers and the rise of cellphones, I can assure you that this is a historical fact. – user4086 Mar 2 '14 at 11:22

In Beijing in the early 1990s, the expression 大哥大 for cellphone was in use; the explanation being offered was that it referred to a gang leader. (Have always wondered what sense that made.)

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大哥大 refers to the old-style "brick"-like mobile phones, though the word is rarely used now. 手機 is the common term for mobile/cell phone.

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