Friggatriskaidekaphobia. No, that's not a typo; there really is such a word. I just learned it and I really like it, because it's as much fun to look at as it is to say. It's a term for the fear of Friday the 13th, Frigga being the Norse goddess for whom the day is named, and triskaidekaphobia being the fear of the number 13. Another term for the dread of the notorious date is paraskevidekatriaphobia, from the Greek words Paraskevi (Friday) and dekatria (thirteen). But I prefer friggatriskaidekaphobia.
According to Wikipedia, which is where I found my new favorite word, the North Carolina Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute estimates that 17 million to 21 million Americans are affected by friggatriskaidekaphobia. Some are so fearful, they avoid even their normal routines when the infamous day rolls around, which it does at least once every calendar year. There are people who won't hop on a plane, go to work, eat in a restaurant, or even get out of bed. Others go about the day with a mild sense of dread hanging over them. No wonder bad things happen on Friday the 13th; all that negativity is bound to manifest into mishaps.
While experts generally agree that Friday the 13th is a 20th century superstition, no one really knows how it began. The most widely accepted theory is that, human nature being what it is, someone combined two long-held superstitions to come up with a super superstition. In many European cultures and for many centuries, Friday has been considered an unlucky day, described in The Canterbury Tales as a day of misfortune and bad luck. Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday, the Great Flood began on a Friday and, some say, it was on a Friday that Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden. As for the number 13, it's easy to see how it became vilified, coming after 12, the number of completeness. Twelve months in a year, 12 hours on a clock, 12 signs of the Zodiac (both the Chinese and the astrological). Twelve even has its own word - a dozen. Thirteen is a Johnny-come-lately.
The earliest known English reference to Friday the 13th is in the 1869 biography "The Life of Rossini" by Henry Sutherland Edwards: " . . . if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that one Friday the 13th of November he died."
Other persons of note who passed away on a Friday the 13th include Hubert Humphrey, Benny Goodman, Julia Child and Tupac Shakur. Of course, I'm sure that just as many people have died on, say, Tuesday the 7th or Sunday the 16th, as on Friday the 13th. It's just that no one keeps lists of those.
Over the past century, folks have come up with all sorts of notions: If a funeral procession passes you on Friday the 13th, you will be the next to die. If you cut your hair on Friday the 13th, someone in your family will die. If you see a black cat on Friday the 13th, you will be plagued by misfortune. A child born on Friday the 13th will be unlucky for life.
I've spent my life working to disprove that last one, for I was born on a Friday the 13th. So were Alfred Hitchcock, Margaret Thatcher, Fidel Castro and at least a dozen celebrities, including actor Steve Buscemi and Monkee Peter Tork. I'd be willing to bet that they, like me, consider Friday the 13th to be a lucky day. I used to tell my husband that it was HIS lucky day, to which he would always, sweetly, agree.
So I am an anti-friggatriskaidekaphobic. I love Fridays and 13 is my favorite number. Last year was an exceptionally good one; there were three Friday the 13ths, and they each fell exactly 13 weeks apart.
When my birthday happens to fall on a Friday, as it will two days from now, I get really excited. And in this year of 2013, I look forward to a super lucky day. From tonight through next Monday, I have plans to spend time with family and a few special friends. On Friday, I'll pamper myself with a manicure and pedicure, maybe a massage. I won't cut my hair, though. No sense in pushing my luck.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.