Standard phone keypads the world over have letters associated with each number, with 1 being reserved, 2 = ABC, 3 = DEF, etc. This sometimes results in people or businesses either purchasing custom phone numbers that can be used to spell words (also called "vanity phone numbers"), or otherwise attempting to make a meaningful word or phrase out of an existing phone number to improve memorability. For example, Mexican bank Banamex's call center can be reached by dialing variations of "BANAMEX" (226-2639), such as 1-800-BANAMEX (1-800-226-2639) from the United States, or 55-1-BANAMEX (55-1226-2639) from within the country.
Businesses have long since taken advantage of this by attempting to create a mnemonic with the letters associated with their phone number for ease of memorability, or to enable a Phone Number Jingle. Fictional works also tend to make heavy use of this property for their fake phone numbers, often for comedic effect.
Japanese numbers can also be read as various letters, called Goroawase Number, leading to an alternate method of achieving this trope.
"1-800" was the original toll-free prefix for business phone numbers in the in the North American Numbering Plan area, followed by the 7 digits that make up the rest of the number (sometimes more than 7 numbers are used in order to spell a longer word, and the excess digits are ignored when dialed). As businesses tend to be the ones both with enough money to purchase custom phone numbers, and the desire to have their phone number be memorable, "1-800" numbers make up the bulk of this trope in real life in the United States.
There's even a website that will let you type in a phone number and will tell you what sorts of things can be spelled with it, or conversely, what phone number a word spells.
Trope applies to any phone number, real or fake, that is read as a word or phrase, not necessarily just 1-800 numbers.
The number will occasionally start with 555.
See also Vanity License Plate.
- Ads for J.G. Wentworth: "Have an annuity but need cash now? Call J.G. Wentworth: 877-CASH-NOW!"
- Avoided with Google Adwords, this is explicitly forbidden.
- Major retailers often post a toll-free number on their vehicles to let the company weed out substandard drivers. Parody bumper stickers soon appeared: "How's my driving? Call 1 800 EAT $#!T."
- In the audio Parody Commercial for "Barf Construction" you're instructed to call 1-800-HEAVE.
- Yato's phone number in Noragami is 080-0919-8100. This phone number spells ku(9)-i(1)-ku(9)-ya(8)-to(10), or "Quick Yato".
- In Soul Eater, the number to call Shinigami is 42-42-564 (shini-shini-goroshi, "death-death-murder"). You don't actually use a phone, though, you write on the fog condensed on a mirror.
- The Santa Clause got in a little bit of trouble when Scott sarcastically identifies a phone number on a piece of paper as 1-800-SPANK-ME, which turned out to be an actual phone sex hotline.
- The King of Druidia's phone number in Spaceballs is 1-800-DRUIDIA
- In A Safe Place (1971), Noah tells Fred that when she was a kid, she used to come up with words based on the first two letters of her friends' phone numbers, like Plaza or Butterfield. She felt a connection with anyone who had the same word as herself. Fred's number starts with 64, so he comes up with Mirage.
- In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the initial phone codes to contact Mycroft are actual words with nulls added to get them to the correct length (I think Mannie dials MYCROFTXXX, but I could be wrong on the number of null Xs). As the conspiracy grows they run out of memorable word codes and have to start using random codes.
- Stanley Belmont from Lotsa Luck starring the late Dom De Luise (an American adaptation of On the Buses) needs someone to counsel him about his growing stress troubles. His brother-in-law Arthur suggests calling the company's in-house shrink at extension 5665. After dialing that number, Stanley remarks, "You know what that spells? Kook."
- In the JAG episode "Retreat, Hell", Mic Brumby (Trevor Goddard), a former officer of the Royal Australian Navy, starts a new firm in America that represents people suing the U. S. Navy. Commander Harmon Rabb (David James Elliott) jokes that Brumby's phone number is 1-800-SUE-NAVY.
- A Saturday Night Live Parody Commercial for a harassment agency's phone number is 1-800-HARASSS - "the extra "S" is for extra harassment."
- In Scrubs, Turk gets a vanity number that spells CALLTURK. When it's pointed out that this is one too many digits, he says he hopes people will dial the 'K' even though they don't have to. J.D. promises, "I'll always dial the 'K' for you."
- Millennium has a variation in the episode "522666." The villain of the piece, a mad bomber, always calls emergency services and punches in "5-2-2-6-6-6" before he sets off his bombs. When these numbers are switched out for letters, the result is "KABOOM."
- A recurring skit on The Amanda Show parodied When Animals Attack and the other such shows Fox aired a lot of back in the late 90s and early 00s, with variations like When Old Ladies Attack or When Bradys Attack. Towards the end, Amanda would turn to the camera and encourage the viewers to dial an absurdly-long number, typically something like "1-500 I-JUST-SAW-THE-BRADY-BUNCH-ATTACK-SOME-PERSON-SO-NOW-I'M-CALLING-THIS-NUMBER-TO-REPORT-WHAT-I-SAW".
- Genesis employed this on the video for "Jesus He Knows Me." When Phil sang "Just call my toll-free number," the number 1800-GENESIS flashed on the screen. The screen graphics on the accompanying tour did this as well.
- For a while Dr. Demento's request line was 1-900-BANANAS.
- The first two Saints Row games allow you to dial various phone numbers on your cell phone. Most of them follow this trope. For example, the number for Haz Mat is 555-6677 or 555-OOPS.
- The (possibly now defunct) CinemaSins hotline is 405-459-7466, or 405-459-SINN.
- Family Guy: In a cutaway depicting Hitler having his own talk show, the announcer tells the viewer that they can get tickets to the show by calling 213-DU-WERDEST-EIN-KRANKENSCHWESTER-BRAUCHEN!
- In the Looney Tunes film Daffy Duck's Quackbusters, Daffy, Bugs and Porky run a Ghostbusters-esque agency, and their phone number is 555-5925, or 555-KWAK.
- The Simpsons
- In "Homer the Smithers" Mr. Burns tries to call Smithers by dialing S-M-I-T-H-E-R-S, but after the first seven digits gets Moe's Tavern, where Moe thinks that it's a Prank Call.
- "Some Enchanted Evening" features 1-800-YOU-SQUEAL.
Lisa: 1-800-YOU-SNITCH— No, YOU-SQUEAL!
- "Homer's Triple Bypass" reveals that Dr. Nick Riviera's phone number is 1-600-DOCTORB.
Dr. Nick: The "B" is for "bargain"!
- Any guesses as to what 1-800-FLOWERS sells?
- Call 1-800-COMCAST to schedule a service appointment between 9am and never.
- You don't even have to have good eyesight to call 1-800-CONTACTS.
- Walt Disney World's telephone number 1-407-W-DISNEY, as well as Disneyland's 1-714-520-MICKEY.
- "Hooked on Phonics" used to have the phone number 1-800-ABCDEFG.
- 1-800-PETMEDS delivers drugs straight to your door. For your dog.
- 1-800-QUIT-NOW is a national US helpline for people looking to quit smoking.
- Want a car loan, but have bad credit? Everybody deserves a second chance! Simply call 1-800 BAR-NONE.
- In the UK, the number to reverse call charges is 0800 REVERSE
- During the phone wars of the early-to-mid-1990s (comperable to the Computer Wars or Cable/Satellite Mudslinging of today) two competing collect call services were 1-800-COLLECT and 1-800-CALL-ATT.
- Are you in the Netherlands and need to contact the police, but it's not an emergency situation? Simply ring 0900-TUIG (0900-THUGS)
- Until AT&T introduced all-digit dialing starting in 1958, ALL phone numbers were like this, which is why the letters are there in the first place. The first three digits of the number would be the exchange, with the first two letters of the exchange name, and then a digit to identify exactly which exchange, and then the digits to identify which line in the exchange, like KLondike 5-1234 (or for that matter, PEnnsylvania 6-5000, which was not originally really a vanity number). All phone numbers were listed like this.