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Unlucky for some?

© GETTYDo you walk round ladders rather than under them? touch wood to ward off bad luck? throw salt over your shoulder if you spill some? feel that you will have a good or bad day because a black cat crosses your path? If the answer to any of these questions is yes then you’re probably not feeling all that chipper today, Friday 13th.

The idea that Friday is a bad day to start a new project or journey goes back a long way, and fear of Friday 13th seems to have a real impact on people’s lives:

Paraskevidekatriaphobia has real consequences: businesses lose up to $800 million on Friday the 13th because of the belief that it is an unlucky day to travel or go to work.

According to Dr. Donald Dossey, a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of phobias, who coined the … term, there may be as many as 21 million people in the United States who fear Friday the 13th.

But note those weasel phrases lose up to $800 million and there may be as many as 21 million, both classic ways of suggesting very large numbers without actually having to prove anything. Indeed some studies have shown that events such as traffic accidents are in fact less frequent on this day, perhaps because people are behaving more carefully; or perhaps they are just staying at home to avoid problems.

What about that little-used tongue twister, paraskevidekatriaphobia? Fear of the number 13 is sometimes called triskadekaphobia; and so fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia, from the Greek Paraskeví (meaning “Friday”), and dekatreís (“thirteen”). The person who coined the term, the Dr. Dossey mentioned above, apparently stated that the ability to say the word constituted the cure of the condition, so one imagines he was not being entirely serious.

There are various reasons why Friday 13th is believed to be unlucky. For Christians, Friday is the day of the Crucifixion, while thirteen is the number of people who took part in the Last Supper (twelve disciples plus Jesus).  This may seem flimsy evidence for associating the date with bad luck, but the fact is that many people seem to feel a superstitious shudder when this day comes round, as it does every time the first of the month falls on a Sunday.

Of course superstitions are culturally bound. For example, in Italy people touch iron, not wood for luck and the unluckiest number is seventeen, not thirteen. So the idea that today is destined to be risky or unlucky should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. Provided you remember to throw it over your shoulder afterwards.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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