Summit Up 3-9-13: When numbers and phobias collide
March 8, 2013
Good morning and welcome to Summit Up, the world’s only daily column that wants to know what the number 13 means to you.
As many of us in Western culture are aware, 13 is considered a really unlucky number. There are various theories as to why this particular number appears so sinister.
Religion and mythology aren’t all that friendly to the number 13. One particular Norse myth relates a story about 12 gods sitting around a table, feasting and doing whatever gods do when they party together, when suddenly the god of mischief, Loki, walked in, making him the 13th member. The Norse weren’t too fond of Loki, and no surprise, as he apparently then arranged for a blind god to accidentally shoot Balder the Beautiful, which everyone was pretty upset about. Even today Loki gets a bad rap, as seen in the 2012 movie “The Avengers.”
Biblical references to 13 are gloomy as well, naming Judas as the 13th guest to the Last Supper. Ancient Rome took it a step further, believing that when witches gathered in groups of 12, the devil made up the 13th member.
The number 12 certainly holds a much better reputation – 12 gods on Olympus, 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles of Jesus, to name a few.
Superstition of 13 can be seen today, as some buildings don’t declare a 13th floor, but go straight from 12 to 14.
Then, as if 13 wasn’t scary enough, they had to bring Fridays into it. Friday the 13th, as any lover of horror movies know, is a bad luck combination waiting to happen. It’s so terrifying, in fact, that there is even a name for having a phobia of the number 13 (Triskaidekaphobia) and of the date Friday the 13th (Paraskevidekatriaphobia). You’re welcome, Scrabble enthusiasts. “Triskaideka,” if you were wondering, is Greek for the number 13. Because if you’re going to have a phobia, putting it in Greek makes it sound much more serious.
If you’re worried about 13, either on or off a Friday, take a trip over to Asia, where it has no bad luck power at all. Just know that you’ll be exchanging one number for another, in a sort of frying pan/fire type of move. In Eastern cultures, the number four holds the most superstitious fear. In the Chinese language, the word for four (“si”) is very similar in pronunciation to the word for “death.” So if you’re headed up a building in a Chinese elevator, you may see number 13 on there, but there won’t be anything between three and five. This is called “Tetraphobia” and has nothing to do with fear of the game Tetris.
Italy, according to the all-knowing Internet, is also afraid of the number 17 because of the way it is written in Roman numerals (XVIII) which is an anagram of the Latin word “Vixi” meaning “I have lived” which is a euphemism for “I am dead.” Seems like kind of a stretch, Italy.
If you’re looking for a really killer Scrabble play, may we suggest “Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.” Don’t ask us how to pronounce it, but according to Wikipedia it is phobia of the number 666, which is often referred to the Number of the Beast, a representative of the devil.
Well, that’s about as much math as we like to do in a day around the Summit Up HQ. We’re really more word people, after all. But we will tell you that the next Friday the 13th is this September. We out.