Today is Friday! Hooray! But wait – let me just check today’s date. Uh-oh. Friday the 13th. Unlucky.
Fear of the number thirteen – triskaidekaphobia – is common enough that in many hotel buildings, they skip the thirteenth floor entirely (although I’ve only ever seen this in the United States):
This seems somewhat futile though. As the wonderful Mitch Hedberg once said:
I’m staying in a hotel right now, there’s no thirteenth floor because of superstition, but come on man – the people on the fourteenth floor? You know what floor you’re really on. If you jump out of the fourteenth floor hoping to kill yourself, you will die earlier.
There are a number of ideas as to why the number thirteen is supposed to be unlucky – many of them suggesting the origin lies with Judas, the thirteenth disciple, who betrayed Jesus. Although it could be argued that it was precisely Judas’ actions which led to Christ making the sacrifice which led to the formation of Christianity, so it didn’t work out too bad for Him in the long run.
The more specific fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia (from the Greek words Paraskeví for Friday and dekatreís meaning thirteen).
In 1907, the Bostonian businessman Thomas W. Lawson published a novel entitled Friday The Thirteenth, in which a corrupt stockbroker engineers a crash in the stock market on that date. Lawson had a ship named after him (the Thomas W. Lawson) which spookily sank near the Isles of Scilly on Friday the 13th of December the same year his novel was published. Although, strictly speaking, it sank on Saturday the 14th at 2.30am GMT – it’s only when you allow for the time difference that it sneaks back into Friday the 13th.
The Friday the 13th series of films capitalised on the notoriety of the date. Considering the distinct drop off in quality after the first few films in the series, as well as the underwhelming 2009 reboot, the fact that the franchise made nearly half a billion dollars at the box office worldwide suggests that the series benefited from some quite extraordinary good luck.
I have never been a superstitious person and consider myself something of a rationalist, which is why I do not believe that any particular date should be associated with bad luck. Indeed, I don’t even really believe in the concept of “luck” as a predeterminer of future life events. It is sometimes argued that the very fear of Friday the 13th is enough to make people overly cautious which can then lead to accidents in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. However there is also evidence to suggest that accident rates go down on this date as people avoid taking risks. The truth is that there is no reason to fear any particular day of the year more than any other. Instead what we should do is… wait, hold on, what’s that sound? It sounds like… oh god… that car! It’s out of control and it’s about to hi-