The definition of triskaidekaphobia, according to the British Dictionary, is “Abnormal fear of the number thirteen (13).” Triskaidekaphobia comes from the Greek words “tris” meaning “three,” “kai” meaning “and,” “deka” meaning “ten,” and “phobia” meaning “morbid fear or flight.” Triskaidekaphobia pronunciation is quite hard.
Triskaidekaphobia can also include avoiding the use of the number 13 in any form. These forms can include:
- Seats in a theater
- Rows of seats on an aircraft
- Floors in a building
- Room numbers in a hotel
- Guests at a meal table
- Chapters in a book
- Repetitions of an exercise in a set
- Any occurrence of anything amounting to or adding up to ’13’
There is no specific origin of the condition known as ‘triskaidekaphobia.’ The word itself originated in 1911. It was created by Isador Coriat, a psychiatrist and neurologist in Boston, Massachusetts and first used in the book, Abnormal Psychology. Triskaidekaphobia to the sufferer is the same as any other phobia. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a phobia is “an abnormally fearful response to a danger that is imagined or is irrationally exaggerated.”
Some people are of the opinion that triskaidekaphobia is not so much a phobia as a superstition. Sufferers of a true fear of the number ’13’ would disagree. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), a phobia “is characterized by clinically significant anxiety provoked by exposure to a specific feared object or situation, often leading to avoidance behavior.”
Diagnostic Criteria for a Phobia
As with any condition that “doesn’t feel right,” a medical professional MUST be consulted. This information is only to be used for educational purposes. Do not use it to diagnose a condition. “Playing doctor” can be fatal. The criteria listed below apply to adults. Young people under age 18 must show these symptoms for at least six months.
- Marked and persistent fear that is unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation (in this case, encountering the number 13, especially if it pops up unexpectedly).
- Exposure to the phobic stimulus almost invariably provokes an immediate anxiety response, which may include a Panic Attack. A Panic Attack in itself is an anxiety disorder that needs professional medical attention.
- The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.
- The phobic situation is avoided, or else endured with intense anxiety or distress.
- The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared situation interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational or academic functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.
As with any anxiety issue, triskaidekaphobia should never be dismissed or discounted. The phrase, “it’s all in your head” is extremely disrespectful to the sufferer and can be as harmful as the phobia itself. Always get a professional assessment and diagnosis if this, or any other phobia, is causing enough distress to be noticeable in any way to anyone.
Whether it is a phobia or a superstition, any phobia is very real to the person dealing with it. The only criteria needed to take action is that the person is experiencing distress with the condition and wants to do something about it. Triskaidekaphobia is like an eating disorder in that contact with the number 13, like contact with food, cannot be completely avoided, nor controlled. The worst part of having a phobia like this is knowing it isn’t logical, but having no control over the reaction to the phobic stimulus. It can, however, be treated, so an individual who suffers from triskaidekaphobia can work with a psychotherapist or psychiatrist to lessen the fear and anxiety the condition produces.
A well-known type of therapy used for this and other phobias is CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT involves different ways of coming to terms with the phobia and becoming desensitized to the stimulus. When something as commonplace as a date on a calendar, or a number on a grocery-store receipt can trigger a phobic attack, seriously considering professional help is a good idea and is appropriate. There are even therapists and psychiatrists who specialize in working with people who have phobias.
Some psychiatrists will prescribe medication to relieve the anxiety that goes along with the phobia, if it is so severe it prevents a sufferer from functioning in any area of life the sufferer thinks is important. With fear of the number 13, a little extra help, which meds can provide, at school or work, for example, can make the difference between success and failure. Medication, however, is not always needed, or even wanted. Sometimes, meds can be used on a short-term basis, until CBT or other non-medication solutions take hold.
There is a myth about the number ’13’ being unlucky that goes back as far as 1780 BCE, in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi.
Some believe that 13 is unlucky because it follows 12, which in ancient Babylonia, China, and Rome was considered to be a lucky number associated with completion and perfection.
The ancient Hebrews thought 13 was unlucky because the thirteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the letter M, which is the first letter in the word “mavet,” meaning death.
In Norse mythology, Loki, who was known as a trickster and evil mischief-maker, was believed to be the 13th god in their pantheon
Fear of the number 13 is also seen in astrology. Only twelve constellations are recognized in the Zodiac. A thirteenth constellation, Ophiuchus (the Serpent Holder) could be included, because of its location in the sky, but it has been omitted over time.
More Modern Superstitions
In more modern times, many Western cultures acknowledge the widespread nature of the fear of the number 13. These beliefs are usually rooted in events that were somehow connected with 13. Friday the 13th has long been popularly associated with bad luck and misfortune. Superstitions surrounding the number 13 include:
- In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, Christ and His 12 apostles made up 13. One (Judas Iscariot) betrayed Him, casting the number 13 as one of misfortune. Friday became unlucky in the western world also, because that was the day on which Christ was crucified.
- Friday the 13th. One of the most infamous stories about this date concerns the Knights Templar. At dawn on Friday, October 13, 1307, French Templar knights were arrested by agents of King Philip IV (monarch of France), and tortured into admitting to sacrilegious offenses. Then they were executed.
- The 13th day of any month occurring on a Friday
- 13th floor of a building, or the 13th row of seats in an airplane is often numbered ’14,’ which skips the number ’13’ completely. This is thought to avoid the ’13’ issue altogether.
- 13 at table. The superstition is that the first person to arise from the table after the meal will die before the end of the year.
- In Grimm’s fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, the wicked fairy is the thirteenth fairy.
- There are several references to the number ’13’ in today’s entertainment world. Probably the most well-known is the “Friday the 13th” horror movie franchise.
The fear of the number 13 since the nineteenth century has resulted in:
- The baker’s dozen. In Britain, years ago, bakers would add an extra loaf to each dozen to be sure the sale met the minimum legal weight requirement. They avoided the word thirteen by calling it the “baker’s dozen.”
- The loss to U.S. businesses of millions of dollars because of canceled appointments, and absenteeism on Friday the 13th.
- Hotel guests refusing to stay in Room 13, so rooms are often numbered 12, 12A, and 14.
Famous People With ’13’ Problems
- Henry Ford, inventor of the automobile, wouldn’t do business on Friday, the 13th.
- Multimillionaire Paul Getty is known to have said, “I wouldn’t care to be one of thirteen at a table.”
- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR of World War II fame) would not dine in a group of 13 people.
- Athletes and sports figures, notoriously superstitious, frequently show issues with the number ’13.’ Many refuse to wear a jersey with that number on it.
Other Names for Triskaidekaphobia
- fear of 13 phobia
- unlucky 13 fear
- fear of 13 phobia name
- phobia of number 13