It’s Friday 13th, and for some people that’s a day when their triskaidekaphobia kicks in big time. Triskaidekaphobia? It means “fear of the number 13”. Also sometimes spelled triskaidecaphobia, it’s a slightly strange word deriving from two different languages: it combines the Greek treiskaideka (“thirteen”) with the Latin word for “fear of”, phobia. The first known written citation is in a book by Isador Coriat, Religion and Medicine: the Moral Control of Nervous Disorders, published in 1908, so this superstition linked to the number 13 is probably quite a recent phenomenon. But is there also a word for the fear of the date itself?
If your suffering is especially acute today, you might well have something called friggatriskaidekaphobia — a morbid fear of Friday the 13th. A lot of people seem to have it. That friggin’ Friday fear gets its name from Frigg, the Norse goddess after whom Friday is named in English, plus three Ancient Greek words — treis meaning three, kaí for “and”, and déka for “ten” — and of course the requisite phobia. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is another long word for this very common superstition; coined by the therapist Dr. Donald Dossey whose specialty is treating people with irrational fears, it uses Paraskevi, the Greek word for Friday (instead of the Nordic Frigga used in friggatriskaidekaphobia), and you can probably work out where the rest of the word comes from: –deka … –tria … –phobia — see, you’re getting the hang of it. Dossey would apparently tell his patients that “when you learn to pronounce it, you’re cured!” Now, neither of these words appears in the Oxford English Dictionary, nor in Merriam Webster, so we do need to take their legitimacy with a pinch of proverbial (or pronounial) salt.
As WolframMathWorld explains: “Paraskevidekatriaphobia is probably the most widespread superstition in the United States, possibly affecting tens of millions of Americans. Interestingly, a study by Scanlon et al. (1993) published in the prestigious British Medical Journal which analyzed the relation between health, behavior, and superstition surrounding Friday 13th in the United Kingdom by comparing the ratio of traffic volume to traffic accidents on Friday the 6th and Friday the 13th over a period of years found that, “The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52%. Staying at home is recommended.” … While there does not appear to be hard evidence to support the claim, it has been suggested that $800 to $900 million are lost each Friday the 13th (Roach 2004) as a result of people avoiding travel, wedding plans, moving, and so on.”