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.

  • There is a provider called 台灣大哥大 (Taiwan Mobile) in Taiwan.
    – mrjimoy_05
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 6:39
  • 1
    We refer to some very old and big cellphones as 大哥大 in Hong Kong too. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 7:30
  • 2
    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
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 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.
    – rxmnnxfpvg
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 18:44

3 Answers 3


According to one of the rumors, 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.

  • 2
    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
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 8:59
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    I am adding a resource zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%A7%BB%E5%8A%A8%E7%94%B5%E8%AF%9D#1G
    – einverne
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 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. Commented Feb 9, 2014 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
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 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.)


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.

  • 大哥大 as used in the Hong Kong Triad hierarchy is equivalent to the Italian Mafia's "godfather", (or Capo dei capi) When the brick-like mobiles first came out they were expensive and was a sign of prestige to own one. Perhaps through the early 80's Hong Kong gangster films the phones got identified as a status symbol for gang bosses. Now virtually everyone could afford a mobile phone and so no longer a status symbol, and 大哥大 is no longer used. I lived through the 80's using these phones and we did called them 大哥大. For the record I was never a "godfather" in the present context of the word :) Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 4:14

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