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Fear of what?

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In the modern age of Google, you might have heard the word triskaidekaphobia, which means "fear of the number 13." But did you also know about paraskevidekatriaphobia, which means, specifically, fear of Friday the 13th?

If you are suffering from either of those fears today, then you are not alone. According to Wolfram MathWorld, a math-oriented wiki, paraskevidekatriaphobia is probably the most widespread superstition in the United States, possibly affecting tens of millions of Americans.

A 1993 British study compared data from traffic statistics and reported the risk of a hospital admission from a traffic accident in the UK can rise as much as 52 percent on a Friday the 13th. "Staying home is recommended," concluded the report.

So why are people traditionally afraid of the number that follows 12, since it is also a baker's dozen, which means free good stuff?

Fear of 13 in the Christian world first began appearing in medieval times, when people began drawing conclusions from the depiction of 13 people at the Last Supper of Jesus. The Crucifixtion of Christ also took place on a Friday, though not a Friday the 13th. But the connections may have started there.

In the Norse mythology, which also heavily influences English speaking countries, the story of the death of Balder, the beloved of all gods and son of the great god Odin, was slain at a dinner party in which 12 people were invited, but Loki, the trickster god, crashed the party, bringing the number to 13. The fact that Loki was the culprit only added to the horror. Interestingly, the name "Friday" comes from the name of the Norse goddess Freya, who was Balder's mother.

In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written in the late 14th century, the author makes special note of an unlucky event happening on a 13th of the month, and on a Friday to boot. By around 1800, the date had appeared in several popular publications as an unlucky day to start a new venture (beginning a journey, giving birth, getting married, moving, starting a new job, etc.).

The number combination still appears in modern fiction and modern mythology as the names of books, movies and television shows, all about horror or supernatural events. Though scholars agree the connections drawn to the arrest of Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, on Friday, October 13, 1307 by King Philippe IV of France, as popularized in Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code, are a thoroughly modern interpretation.

While 13 may be a popular phobia here, there are many other cultures with number phobias.

Many Asian cultures, for example, share a cultural phobia to the number 4, and it is not uncommon for buildings there to lack a fourth floor, just as ours often lack a 13th floor.This originates in the Mandarin language, where the pronunciation of the word for "four" is very similar to that of the word for "death."

However you feel about numbers, or Fridays for that matter, stop in at the library next time you feel it's safe to leave the house and start a new adventure. We'd love to know you made it safe and sound.