Countdown to Christmas – Question 13: Friday 13th December

It’s a topical vocabulary question today. What’s the word used to describe “the fear of the number 13?” Hint: fear of the number 13 is different from the fear of Friday the 13th itself. 

Fear of the number thirteen

ANSWER: triskaidekaphobia!

The word triskaidekaphobia is a relatively new word – and for lexicographers, anything from the early 20th century is “new” – and was coined from the Greek treiskaideka, which means “thirteen” and phobos, meaning “fear.” The Oxford English Dictionary has the first published use of the word in Isador Henry Coriat’s Abnormal Psychology in 1911.

The specific fear of Friday 13th has two words: paraskevidekatriaphobia and friggatriskaidekaphobia. The latter is simply triskaidekaphobia with the prefix, frigga, which is the name of the Norse goddess after whom Friday originates. It’s origin is obscure but certainly recent i.e. 20th century. The former, appears to be traceable to Dr. Donald Dossey in his 1992 book Holiday Folklore, Phobias, and Fun, is also a Greek coinage: paraskevi meaning “Friday,” dekatria meaning “thirteen,” and again, phobia means “fear.”

But wait, you eagle-eyed readers exclaim, how come both treiskaideka and dekatria both mean “thirteen?” Well, treis on its own means “three” and deka means “ten, and the Greek word for “and” is kai. So, the former is literally “three and ten” whereas the latter is simply “three ten.”  Score another point for the Dudes as being “edutainers” – you may not realize it, but reading our blog is an education; we just do it oh so subtly 😉


Article on paraskevidekatriaphobia from the Macmillan Dictionary Buzzwords blog.

Definition of triskaidekaphobia in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

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