A Friday the 13th imageI'm not sure what I am more afraid of, Friday the 13th, or the name of the phobia ascribed to the fear of Friday the 13th – Paraskevidekatriaphobia. Recently, while I was searching through newspaper articles from the late 1930s and early 1940s, I came across an article about a group of businessmen that started the Anti-Superstition Society of Chicago. Apparently, the group (which started with 13 charter members, naturally,) was quite active for decades and on each Friday the 13th they would hold grand affairs and mock a whole range of closely-held superstitions. The men's antics would include setting out huge platters of cookies with the number "13" on them, arranging ladders throughout the venue for members to walk under, filling the event room with black cats, periodically lighting three cigarettes with one match…you get the picture. Anything associated with what they believed were silly, irrational fears was fair game.

On January 1, 1935, the Nevada State Journal republished a UP article from Chicago which included this: "Members of the Anti-Superstition Society went about town tonight industriously walking under ladders, breaking mirrors, accepting $2 bills and looking for black cats to cross their paths." On July 11, 1962, H. Martin Ladwehr wrote in the The Suburbanite Economist about the group: "This year, to prove whatever one proves by defying superstition, they'll dedicate a new floor (13th), a new room (1313) and walk under any ladder they can find near or in the Bel Tabarin of the Sherman House. All this will take place between 5:13 and 7:13 p.m., of course, and for the privilege of participating in this bit of frivolity each member will pay a tab of $13.13, proceeds to charity."

A black catA TIME magazine article by Ben Cosgrove, titled "Bad-Luck Busters: Friday the 13th With an Anti-Superstition Society," published on September 12, 2013, reports, "The very thought of, say, a black cat crossing one's path on such a day is enough to send ordinarily sane men and women into conniptions." The article has much more at this link:

An ironic comment was left on the website: "It's bad luck to be superstitious!" Here's a fun website which shows some photographs taken by a Life magazine photographer at one of the society's events on December 13, 1940, (which was a Friday, of course) and published in the January 6, 1941 Life issue:

Fears are real and we all have them, so I chose to focus on the task of learning to pronounce the name of this disorder, rather than thinking too much about the fearful day coming up. The 11-syllable word is a tongue twister for sure. Paraskevidekatriaphobia. Maybe learning the origins of the word might help at this point. The word parts break down in Greek like this, "Paraskevi" means Friday, "deka" means 10, "tria" means 3, and of course "phobia" means fear, so, Friday the 13th fear, basically. For the pronunciation, here's a good National Public Radio webpage that can teach you the pronunciation:

I can't memorize like I used to so I came up with some memory tools which helped me with this unwieldy word. I remember "paraskevi" by thinking of an old fella who needs to buy a new pair of skivvies, and "deka" sounds like a deck of cards, and "tria" sounds like the first part of triathalon. What could be easier?

Oh, and, the good news is some believe if you learn to pronounce Paraskevidekatriaphobia, you will be cured of this Friday the 13th fear! But you better start practicing now since May 13 (the only day where Friday and the 13th of a month coincide this year) is coming up fast.

Friday the 13th graphic

(Public Domain images courtesy of Thanks)

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