What did 143 mean on a beeper?

Back in the days before smartphones, people stayed connected using pagers, also known as beepers. These small devices allowed people to send and receive short text messages. One very common numeric code people used in pager messages was “143.” This stood for the phrase “I love you.” Here’s a more in-depth look at the history and meaning behind using 143 on a pager.

The Height of Pager Popularity

Pagers first emerged in the 1950s but didn’t become widely popular until the late 1980s and early 1990s. During this time, pagers were frequently used by doctors, emergency services personnel and business people to stay connected while on the go. Pagers were a convenient way to get short messages about important updates. At the peak of their popularity, roughly 61 million Americans used pagers, according to the New York Times. Pagers were a ubiquitous sight in the 90s, clipped to belts or carried in pockets, and they became part of the cultural zeitgeist.

Early Text Codes

While pagers could only receive and display numbers early on, later versions allowed for text messages through what was called “alphanumeric pagers.” This enabled pager users to get creative and send coded messages using numbers and letters. Teens and young adults especially enjoyed using shorthand codes to communicate personal messages on their pagers to friends, significant others and crushes.

143 Emerges

One enormously popular code that emerged was using 143 to mean “I love you.” There are a few origin stories and theories about where 143 came from. Most sources agree that 143 began being used in the 1980s. One explanation is that 143 corresponds to the number of letters in each word of “I love you.” I = 3 letters, love = 4 letters, you = 3 letters. Hence, 143.

Another related theory says that 143 was derived from a 180-word per minute typing test. Supposedly “I love you” could be typed out fully in under a second at 143 wpm. So 143 became synonymous with the quick ability to express love.

Variations and Meanings

In addition to 143, variations like 1432 and 14333 were also used. 1432 meant “I love you too” (12 letters, 4 letters, 3 letters) and 14333 meant “I love you so much” or “I really really love you.” People got creative with elongating the number of threes to emphasize stronger feelings. 14333333333!

143 was also used verbatim to represent hugs and kisses. The numbers corresponded to the letters H K in “hugs and kisses.” People expanded the code too, so 1432 could mean “hugs and kisses too.”

Spreading Beyond Pagers

While the pager popularity eventually waned in the late 90s and 2000s, 143 lived on. It became widely known across culture as a shorthand numeric code for “I love you.” In 1994, the R&B group Boyz II Men released a song called “I’ll Make Love to You.” The chorus contained the line “I love you like 143.” This helped solidify 143 as a reference pop culture reference.

143 continues on today in new forms. With the rise of texting, 143 is still used in typed out messages. People also say “143” aloud or sign it with their hands. It remains an easy shorthand way to express love and affection. The next time you want to tell someone you care without saying the exact words, consider conveying your feelings with a quick 143.


To recap, 143 originally gained popularity in pager speak during the 1980s and 90s. The numbers translated into “I love you” based on the number of letters in each word. Variations like 1432 and 14333 were also used to say “I love you too” and “I love you so much.” Beyond pagers, 143 continues on as a well-known pop culture reference for expressing love in messages and conversation. So when you spot 143 today, know that it has a long history and deep meaning as a coded phrase for romance.

Decade Pager Milestones
1950s Pagers are invented
1970s Pagers start gaining some popularity in business settings
1980s Pager usage grows exponentially, alphanumeric pagers allow text
1990s Peak pager popularity, numeric codes like 143 emerge
2000s Pagers decline as cell phones overtake the market

Frequently Asked Questions

Where did 143 come from?

The origins of 143 are not totally definitive, but there are a few leading theories. The most common is that 143 corresponds to the number of letters in “I love you”: I = 3 letters, love = 4 letters, you = 3 letters. So 143 was an easy numeric shorthand for the phrase.

When did people start using 143?

Sources suggest the use of 143 on pagers emerged in the 1980s as alphanumeric pagers started gaining popularity.

Was 143 used outside of pagers?

While it originated with pager communications, 143 crossed over into mainstream pop culture. It is still used today in text messages, phone calls, chat messages and other forms.

Could 143 mean anything else besides “I love you”?

Yes! 143 was also used to represent “hugs and kisses” based on H being the 8th letter and K the 11th (8 + 11 = 19). People also said 143 as a shorthand expression of love and affection verbally, not just typed out.

Were there other numeric codes similar to 143?

There were variations like 1432 (“I love you too”), 14333 (“I love you so much/really”) and even longer strings of threes to emphasize stronger feelings. These all grew out of the same shorthand numeric texting concept as 143.

Code Meaning
143 “I love you”
1432 “I love you too”
14333 “I love you so much” or “I really love you”
143 143 143… Emphasized, stronger feelings of love

The Impact of 143

While pagers are now obsolete, 143 made a lasting impact:

  • Helped pagers become an important communication method in the 80s/90s
  • Allowed people to express affection via technology/text
  • Became deeply embedded in pop culture and media
  • Remains recognized today as a shorthand for “I love you”
  • Inspired new forms of messaging shorthand communication

The idea of compressing a personal phrase into a short sequence of numbers for a text message laid the groundwork for many forms of shorthand mobile communication that emerged later on:

SMS Texting Codes

Texting codes like 143 were precursors to shorthand codes used in SMS messaging on cell phones. When text messages were limited to 160 characters, creative shortcuts like “LY” (love you) and “LOL” (laugh out loud) became popular.


Emojis can also be considered an evolution of numeric pager codes like 143. Emojis allow people to express ideas and emotions visually in a shortened, symbolic way. For example, frequent combinations like “I ???? you” visually convey love the way 143 did numerically.

Custom Keyboards

Custom mobile keyboards with shorthand options stemmed from the same idea as well. Apps like Snaps allow users to send specific shorthand codes that will expand into longer phrases after delivery, much like 143 expanded to “I love you.”

So while pagers are long gone, they paved the way for many types of shorthand communication we still use today across texting, messaging and social media. The legacy of 143 lives on.

143 in Pop Culture Examples

143 became well known across mainstream media and culture in the 80s, 90s and beyond:


  • “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men – “I love you like 143”
  • “143” by Bobby Day – An entire love song dedicated to the phrase
  • “Pager” by Alicia Keys – Includes a reference to 143


  • The Nickelodeon show Keenan & Kel – recurring joke of characters saying 143
  • TV shows like Saved by the Bell, Frasier, Family Matters
  • Movies like Don’t Be a Menace, Poetic Justice


  • Young adult fiction stories referencing 143
  • Romance novels using 143 plot elements

Beyond just technology, 143 was woven into storytelling and cultural media. It became a widespread pop culture phenomenon still recognized today.

Using 143 On Other Messaging Platforms

While less common than the heyday of pagers, 143 can still pop up on modern messaging platforms:


143 is still regularly used in SMS text messages between friends, couples, family members, etc. It’s convenient shorthand.

Chat Apps

Apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, etc. may contain 143, especially in group chats naming couples.

Social Media

Users may include 143 in bios, captions, private messages on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and other social networks.

Video Calls

People sometimes sign or say 143 at the end of FaceTime, Skype or Google Duo video calls with significant others.


Twitch streamers may say 143 to fans and friends. Gamers may include the code in screennames, chat messages or victory dances.

So while less prominent than in its heyday, 143 still occasionally appears across modern tech when people want to efficiently express love or appreciation. It remains an ingrained shorthand for “I love you” in digital communication.

143 Alternatives

143 was one of the first and most popular coded love phrases, but many others emerged as well:

911 – “I am yours”

Based on 9 letters in “I am yours”

2323 or 2334 – “I want/need you”

Playing off 2 letters in each word

52013 – “Best friends forever”

5 letters (best), 2 letters (friends), 4 letters (forever)

123 or 321 – “I love you” reversed

8 – Oral sex

Upside-down oral sex

7 – Straight sex

Upside-down straight sex

7734 – “Hell” upside down

As texting codes grew, people found creative ways to turn letters/words into numeric equivalents beyond just 143. But it remains one of the most classic and recognizable codes.


In summary, 143 has a rich history originating from pager communication in the 1980s and 90s. The numbers covertly stood for “I love you,” a secret shortcut between pager users and their friends, significant others, and crushes. Beyond just pagers, 143 became engrained in culture through music, TV, film and fiction. It still occasionally pops up across messaging and social media today when people want an efficient way to express affection. So next time you see those three numbers together, you can reminisce on their evolution from once-ubiquitous pager shorthand to relic of digital communication history. Whenever people used 143 in the past or continue to use it today, it universally represents care for someone special.

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