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WR  TE OR WRONG

 The Diary of a Word Nerd

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  • Grace Kidder

Happy Friday the Thirteenth!

It's Friday the 13th! Normally I don't think twice about when this happens, but in 2020...I'm a little nervous. Whenever Friday the 13th rolls around, we find out who our really superstitious friends are. Did you know some people won't even go to work on Friday the 13th?! While a lot of people have some superstitions, including thinking the number thirteen is unlucky, some people are actually deeply afraid of the number.

This fear is called triskaidekaphobia, and a lot of people associate it with being afraid of Friday the 13th as well. Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number thirteen, so it's not specifically the fear of Friday the 13th, but it is the top trending word on Merriam-Webster today. In fact, M-W says it is one of the top words people look up every time Friday the 13th comes around.


There is no real consensus about where the number thirteen gets its negative connotation from. Several theories exist about why it is considered a "bad" number, a lot of them stemming from religion or mythology, but no one knows for sure. According to Merriam-Webster, written references to fear of the number thirteen only date back to the late 1800s, making this a relatively recent curiosity.


"Triskaidekaphobia" itself didn't come around until the early 1900s, when Isador Coriat included it in his book Religion and Medicine: the Moral Control of Nervous Disorders. The word comes from two different languages: "treiskaideka" is the Greek word for "thirteen," and "phobia" is Latin for "fear of." (You can learn about another phobia in this post!)


This phobia (but more so just the superstition) is responsible for a lot of odd things in our world. For example, believing the number thirteen is unlucky is the reason a lot of hotels don't have a thirteenth floor, or why some airplanes don't have a thirteenth row of seats. It has even impacted the automotive industry!


In Ireland, the numbers on a vehicle registration plate begin with the last two digits of the year the vehicle was registered in (11 for 2011, 12 for 2012, etc.). Worried that people might not buy and register as many cars in 2013, the government and the Society of the Irish Motor Industry changed the system so that the registration number would start with 131 or 132, depending on if the vehicle was registered in the first six months of the year or the last, respectively (Bray and Deane).


I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about the fear of the number thirteen! Think of any other areas this has affected? Let me know in the comments!



References:

Bray, Allison, and Padraic Deane. 2012. "2013 Number Plates to Be Changed to Avoid 'Unlucky 13.'"Irish Independent, August 24, 2012. https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/2013-number-plates-to-be-changed-to-avoid-unlucky-13-26890349.html

Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “triskaidekaphobia,” accessed November 13, 2020. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/triskaidekaphobia.

Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, "Triskaidekaphobia: Fear of the number 13," accessed November 13, 2020. https://www.merriam-webster.com/news-trend-watch/triskaidekaphobia-2016-05-13.

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