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Very superstitious

01:00 Thu 31st Jan 2002 |

Q. So what's triskaidekaphobia, then

A. Quite simply, triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number thirteen. Triskaideka is the Classical Greek for thirteen, plus -phobia. As we all know, thirteen is the most unlucky number, and when Friday 13th comes around, which it does at least once every year, you'd be best advised to stay home with the door locked. Architects seem to be prone to triskaidekaphobia, as many skyscrapers don't have a 13th floor, with floor numbers skipping straight to 14 after 12.

If you don't believe in it, just look at what happened to the Apollo 13 mission to the moon.

Q. A quick reminder

A. You didn't see the film Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell, commander of the mission Apollo 13 was launched on 13 April at 13:13 Florida time on Pad 39 (three times thirteen). The astronauts were stranded in space after an oxygen tank explosion and barely limped home with very little power or oxygen left. Spooky or what You couldn't make it up.

Q. But is there a scientific explanation for thirteen being picked out as bad karma

A. Not really, though being a prime number - a number larger than one divisible only by one and itself - it's arithmetically awkward, but then so are all the other primes (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 17, 23, etc.). Or maybe it's because there were thirteen people present at the Last Supper Which may, in fact, point us in the right direction.

Q. Why Is it a Christian thing

A. In pre-Christian Celtic and Germanic pagan societies thirteen was regarded as important and sacred, and this might go some way to explaining how it came to be considered unholy by the early Christian church.

Q. Do any modern cultures deem thirteen as propitious

A. Jews celebrate their coming of age in the thirteenth year of life, and it is celebrated with Bar Mitzvahs for boys and Bat Mitzvahs for girls. The Mayan and Aztec calendars of Central and South America also featured a favourable thirteenth period.

Q. Are there any other unlucky numbers around the world

A. In China the numbers four (si) and seven (qil) both sound very much like the word for death (si), so they have a special significance. In Japan the numbers four and nine are also unlucky for similar reasons, sounding as they do like the words for death and pain respectively.

Elsewhere, numbers ending in seven in Kenya are considered unlucky, as are all odd numbers in Chad, Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. The number 786 has a special significance for Muslims because it refers to a verse in the Koran which roughly translates as 'God be with you'. It isn't surprising then that it is often written as a blessing and it's very bad luck to treat this number with disrespect.

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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