What is Triskaidekaphobia and How Do You Pronounce It? Why Those With a Number 13 Phobia Fear Friday the 13th

If you're squeamish about the number 13, look away now.

Today (September 13, 2019) is Friday the 13th, which means many Americans across the country fear for their safety due to tradition and superstition. You can read more about the origins of Friday the 13th here.

However, some Americans live on the edge every day due to their fear of the number 13, also known as triskaidekaphobia, pronounced TRIS-kye-DEK-a-FOH-bee-a. The term comes from the Greek language where tris means three, kai means and, deka means ten and phobia means fear; a fear of 13. Not to be mistaken by the superstition of the number 13, triskaidekaphobia interferes with people's social, work and psychological functioning.

It's not entirely clear what causes this phobia, however, it is linked to psychological trauma, whether minor or major. According to Anixety.org, these could include:

  • Traumatic experience involving an object of fear, such as the number 13
  • Experiencing a panic attack in a specific situation or around an object
  • Witnessing someone else being harmed by specific activity or object
  • Hearing a tragic story involving a specific activity or object

Harvard Health lists the symptoms of a phobia as:

  • Excessive, unreasonable, persistent feelings of fear or anxiety that are triggered by the number 13
  • Feelings that are either irrational or out of proportion to any actual threat
  • Avoidance of the object, activity or situation that triggers the phobia, to avoid being ashamed or embarrassed
  • Anxiety-related physical symptoms such as, but not limited to, tremors, palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea or other symptoms that reflect the body's "fight or flight" response to danger

According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, about 75 percent of people with specific phobias receive successful treatment using cognitive-behavioral therapy. However, left untreated, a phobia can become a chronic condition in adults.

Famous people in history and popular culture have also suffered from this phobia.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Fear of 13 FDR
Stock image: The former president did not like travelling on Fridays, so Friday the 13th was definitely off the cards for holidays. iStock

The former president of the U.S. was acutely afraid of the number 13 and would never sit down to dinner with 13 people at a table. He would also avoid traveling on a Friday.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain Fear of 13
Mark Twain at a Writing Desk Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

The writer was also afraid of the number 13.


Napoleon Fear of 13
circa 1811: Emperor Napoleon I of France (1769 - 1821), known as Bonaparte. Original Artwork: Painting by Edouard Detaille Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The French emperor disliked the number 13 and, like FDR, would not travel on a Friday. He was reportedly a great mathematician, so he might have considered the number 13 to be an oddity as numerologists see the number 12 as a complete number.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner Fear of 13
Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-1883), German composer. Ca. 1875. adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images

Rather than having a fear of the number 13, Wagner seemed to be cursed by the number. The German composer was born in 1813, where the sum of the digits is 13—1+8+1+3=13. His famous festival opera house in Bayreuth, Germany, was opened on August 13, 1876. He wrote 13 operas (music dramas). His opera Tannhauser was completed on April 13, 1844. Its Paris version closed with some controversy on March 13, 1861. He was banned from Germany for political reasons for 13 years. Wagner died on February 13, 1883, which was the 13th year of German unification. He also has thirteen letters in his name.

Stephen King

Stephen King Fear of 13
American writer Stephen King poses during a portrait session held on November 16, 2013, in Paris, France. Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Reportedly, the author will never finish a book on pages where the digits add up to the number 13. He's quoted as saying: "When I'm writing, I'll never stop work if the page number is 13 or a multiple of 13; I'll just keep on typing till I get to a safe number."