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It's Friday the 13th. Do you suffer from 'triskaidekaphobia'?

a white hockey mask with red markings lays in a bed of leaves
Justin Campbell

It's the stuff of horror movies and scary stories... Friday the 13th — the unluckiest of the unlucky. The 13th falls on a Friday twice in 2023, including Jan. 13.

Nothing like starting the new year off with an inauspicious bit of superstition, eh?

"It's definitely a Western sort of phobia and the word for it is 'triskaidekaphobia,' " explains Rebecca Borah, professor of English at the University of Cincinnati.

Viewing the number 13 as unlucky has several possible explanations. There's a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party in Valhalla when the trickster god, Loki, shows up to make it 13 and chaos ensues.

It could be Biblical, too. There were 13 people present when one of the 12 apostles at the Last Supper betrayed Jesus. Christ was crucified the next day, Good Friday, hence the 13th being extra bad when it falls on a Friday.

"But if written references are any indication, the phenomenon isn't all that old (at least, not among English speakers)," write the folks at Merriam-Webster. "Known mention of fear of thirteen in print dates back only to the late 1800s. By circa 1911, however, it was prevalent enough to merit a name, which was formed by attaching the Greek word for 'thirteen' — treiskaideka (dropping that first 'e') — to phobia ('fear of')."

Some consider it lucky

While there are lots of superstitions and worries about unlucky events on Friday the 13th, Borah says there are some who might actually find it auspicious.

"Some people will see it as lucky because — especially if you're born on a Friday the 13th — people will see that as so unlucky that it is lucky," she says.

"But other people will stay home if they can, maybe work from home, do some Zoom (meetings) instead of going out there on the road because it's like, 'Oh, something's gonna happen. It's gonna be just bad luck, the highways are gonna be slow or somebody's going to cut me off or who knows what can happen.' "

Borah herself isn't superstitious.

"It doesn't bother me. I have a friend who was born on a Friday the 13th and she thinks that's the luckiest day ever. But there are folks who are superstitious enough that they will just avoid doing much of anything that day because there's kind of this taboo or curse on it somehow."

She isn't above playing a few tricks on family members though to celebrate the "holiday." She says she used to burn the toast or play other little pranks on her sons when they were young to mark the occasion.

"That got them pretty skeptical pretty fast. They were on to it. 'Oh, cool, cool. OK, no problem.' "

The 13th falls on a Friday again this year — in October.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.