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    Газета School English #11, 2006


    by David A Wright (UK)

    ParaskevidekatriaphobiaI – that’s a word you don’t see every day of the weekII – means the fear of Friday the 13th. Despite its fearsome scientific name, the superstition that this day is unlucky is surprisingly common, even in societies which consider themselves well-educated and modern. When I was wondering what to write about this month, I happened to notice that it was Friday the 13th of October, so I thought that might make an interesting subject.

        A few years ago, a study entitled “Is Friday the 13th Bad for Your Health?” compared the amount of traffic in the UK to the number of automobile accidents on two different days, Friday the 6thIII and Friday the 13th, over a period of years. Incredibly, they found that, even though fewer people chose to drive their cars on Friday the 13th, the number of hospital admissions due to road accidents was as much as 52% higher than on “normal” Fridays. Their conclusion was that Friday 13th is indeed unlucky for some people – it is better for them to stay at home! Perhaps the superstitious fear may not be so irrational after all. I wonder what you think.

        Even though the day and date inevitable occur together from one to three times every yearIV, many people dread them and some won’t go to work on such days; some won’t eat in restaurants; and many wouldn’t think of arranging a wedding on the date. Dr. Dossey estimates that as many as twenty one million Americans – 8% of the population – may ‘suffer’ from this condition. And it is not just those crazy Americans either!

        Of course, there are many other superstitions, but ‘unlucky Friday the 13th’ is one of the most widespreadV. The sixth day of the week and the number 13 both have inauspicious1 reputations in many cultures. It is difficult to say exactly how old the superstition is, but it is certainly ancient.

    The Number Thirteen

        The Turks are said to have so disliked the number 13 that it was practically expunged2 from their vocabulary. Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue; many buildings don’t have a 13th floor; and some hotels have no room 13VI.

        Perhaps most fanciful of all, some say that if you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil’s luck3. With a bit of juggling4 the words around, you can apply this to almost anyone: eg Jack the Ripper5, Prime Minister, President Bush, Vladimir Putin, Mr David Wright, etc – so it is as well that that it is just amusing nonsense!

        There are many odd theories purporting6 to trace the origins of the superstition. It has been suggested that as primitive man had only his ten fingers and two feet to represent units, he could count no higher than twelve. Anything beyond twelve was a mystery and hence an object of superstition, but one wonders – didn’t he have any toes?

        On the other hand, the ancient Chinese and the Egyptians seem to have regarded the number as lucky. To the Egyptians, earthly life was a quest for spiritual ascension7 which unfolded in stages – twelve in this life and a thirteenth eternal afterlife. Thus the number 13 symbolised a transformation to a glorious and welcome death. After that Egyptian civilisation perished, the symbolism survived, but thirteen came to be associated with a fear of death instead of a reverence for the afterlife. This all sounds very unlikely to me, but maybe I am too sceptical!

        Others speculate that the number 13 may have been associated with the lunar cycleVII revered8 in prehistoric goddess-worshipping9 cultures. The “Earth Mother of Laussel”, for example, is a 27,000-year-old carving found near the Lascaux caves in France and depicts a female figure holding a crescent-shaped horn bearing 13 notches10. It is surmised11 that the founders of early patriarchal religions objected to this and preferred the solar calendar giving 12 months in a year. As male-dominated religions predominated, so did the number 12 over the number 13, which was thereafter considered anathema.
    To be concluded…

    1 inauspicious – предвещающий дурное
    2 to expunge – вычеркивать
    3 the devil’s luck – невероятное везенье
    4 to juggle – жонглировать
    5 Jack the Ripper – Джек Потрошитель
    6 to purport – претендовать
    7 spiritual ascension – духовное восхождение
    8 to revere – преклоняться
    9 goddess-worshipping – культ богини
    10 notch – зарубка
    11 surmise – предполагать

    I The term ‘paraskevidekatriaphobia’ was coined by a Dr. Donald Dossey, a psychotherapist specialising in the treatment of phobias. It is a is a specialised form of ‘triskaidekaphobia’, the fear of the number thirteen. Dr. Dossey claimed that when you can pronounce the word your fear of Friday the 13th will be cured! I’m sure he was joking about the whole thing! Clue: (pair-uh-skee-vee-dek-uh-tree-uh-FOH-bee-uh)
    II The expression ‘don’t see every day of the week’ means ‘rarely’, ‘hardly ever’, almost never’. It is used to refer to something very unusual indeed. Here it is a play on words too, because ‘Friday’ literally doesn’t happen ‘every day of the week’.
    III This was chosen as a typical ‘other’ Friday, with no special significance.
    IV If you are interested, there were 172 Friday the 13ths during the 18th century, another 172 in the 19th century and another 172 this past century. You can check that at: http://thezodiac.com/fridaythe13th.htm
    V I have heard that in Greece and Spain Tuesday the 13th takes the same role. Hence the Spanish: ‘En martes, ni te cases ni te embarques’ (‘On Tuesday, neither get married nor start a journey’).
    VI Fidel Castro was born on Friday, August 13, 1926 – lucky or unlucky depending on your point of view! The Apollo 13 space mission accident happened on 13 April 1970.
    VII 13 × 28 lunar months = 364 days/year

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