Legend: Friday the 13th is a day fraught with peril.
Origins: Although most of us would probably affirm that superstition's role in Western culture is now a much diminished one, more a source of amusement than anything else, there are still those who allow their trepidation over particular days or dates to prevent them from engaging in their choice of activities. We may make jokes about Friday the 13th and only kiddingly
The reasons why Friday came to be regarded as a day of bad luck have been obscured by the mists of
- "Now Friday came, you old wives say, Of all the week's the unluckiest day." (1656)
- "I knew another poor woman, who lost half her time in waiting for lucky days, and made it a rule never
to . . .write a letter on business . . .on a Friday — soher business was never done, and her fortune suffered accordingly." (1804)
- "There are still a few respectable tradesmen and merchants who will not transact business, or be bled, or take physic, on a Friday, because it is an unlucky day." (1831)
- Needleworking: "I knew an old lady who, if she had nearly completed a piece of needlework on a Thursday, would put it aside unfinished, and set a few stitches in her next undertaking, that she might not be obliged either to begin the new task on Friday or to remain idle for a day." (1883)
- Harvesting: "My father once decided to start harvest on a Friday, and men went out on the Thursday evening, and, unpaid, cut along one side of the first field with their scythes, in order to dodge the malign fates which a Friday start would begin." (1933)
- Laying the keel of, or launching, a ship: "Fisherman would have great misgivings about laying the keel of a new boat on Friday, as well as launching one on that day." (1885)
- Beginning a sea voyage: "Sailors are many of them
superstitious . . .A voyage begun [on a Friday] is sure to be an unfortunate one." (1823)
- Beginning a journey: "I knew another poor woman,
who . . .made it a rule never to . . .set out on a journey on a Friday." (1804)
- Giving birth: "A child born on a Friday is doomed to misfortune." (1846)
- Getting married: "As to Friday, a couple married on that day are doomed to a cat-and-dog life." (1879)
- Recovering from illness: "If you have been ill, don't get up for the first time on a Friday." (1923)
- Hearing news: "If you hear anything new on a Friday, it gives you another wrinkle on your face, and adds a year to your age." (1883)
- Moving: "Don't move on a Friday, or you won't stay there very long." (1982)
- Starting a new job: "Servants who go into their situations on Friday, never go to stay." (1923)
- "Notwithstanding the prejudice against sailing on a
Friday . . .most of the pleasure-boats . . .make their first voyage for the season on Good Friday." (1857)
- "It was accounted unlucky for a child to be born on a Friday, unless it happened to be Good Friday, when the event was counterbalanced by the sanctity of the day." (1870)
- "I have known, and now know, persons in genteel life who did, and do, not sit down to table unmoved with twelve others. Our notion is that one of the thirteen so partaking, will die ere the expiry of the year." (1823)
- "The old story runs, that the last individual of the thirteen who takes a seat has the greatest chance of being the 'doomed one'." (1839)
- "Miss Mellon always gave the last comer an equal chance with the rest for
life ...she used to rise and say, 'I will not have any friend of mine sit down as the thirteenth; you must all rise, and we will then sit down again together.'" (1839)
- "Every one knows that to sit down thirteen at a table is a most unlucky omen, sure to be followed by the death of one of the party within the year
. . .Some say, however, that the evil will only befall the first who leaves the table, and may be averted if the whole company are careful to rise from their seats at the same moment." (1883)
- " ... so far is this feeling carried that one of the thirteen is requested to dine at a side table!" (1823)
More generally, groups of thirteen people in any context
- "On a sudden an old woman unluckily observed there were thirteen of us in company. This remark struck a panic terror into several who were present
. . .but a friend of mine, taking notice that one of our female companions was big with child, affirmed there were fourteen in the room ..."(1711)
- "Notwithstanding ... opinions in favour of odd numbers, the number thirteen is considered as extremely ominous; it being held that, when thirteen persons meet in a room, one of them will die within the year." (1787)
- "Many will not sail on a vessel when [thirteen] is the number of persons on board; and it is believed that some fatal accident must befall one of them." (1808)
- "'Look at that,' said Parnell, pointing to the number on his door. It was
No. 13!'What a room to give me!'" (1893)
- "For some time before the late War I went almost daily to the British Museum reading
room ...I gave some attention to the desks left to the last comers ...there was a very marked preference of any other desk to that numbered '13'." (1927)
- "The mechanic helped him get out [of the racing car]. 'May as well scratch,' he said. 'He won't be good for anything more this afternoon. It's asking for trouble having a
No. 13.'" (1930)
Just as Friday was considered an inauspicious day of the week on which to embark upon a new enterprise, so the 13th day of a month came to signify a particularly bad day for beginning a venture. Although regarding the confluence of a particularly unlucky day of the week (Friday) and a particularly unlucky day of the month
Not until the early part of the 20th century did regular expressions of
There's Little Hope for them.
WASHINGTON, March 13 — Friday the 13th holds no terrors for Senator Owen. The Senator from Oklahoma is a Cherokee Indian, and he places the Indian sign on the ancient superstition.
To-day he introduced thirteen public building bills, and by a queer coincidence the file numbers ran from 6,113 to 6,125, inclusive.
There is little likelihood that the public building bills at this session will carry any but the most pressing improvements.
(It's interesting to note that this very early reference to Friday
Similarly, a 1913 piece described a minister who offered to marry free of charge any couple willing to take the matrimonial plunge on Friday
Willing to Take the Chance.
MIDDLETOWN, N.Y., June 10 — Any young couple bent on matrimony may have the ceremony performed free next Friday by applying to the
These days, however, one is unlikely to get so much as a free latte out of the day. Sanguinity comes at a price.
Last updated: 12 February 2015
DiBacco, Thomas V. "How the 13th Earned Its Cloud." The Washington Post. 13 January 2004 (p. 47). Jory, Rex. "It's Friday the 13th, a Day with a History." The Advertiser. 13 October 2000 (p. 18). Maclaren, Lorna. "Watch Out for That Black Cat." The [Glasgow] Herald. 13 April 2001 (p. 20). Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem. A Dictionary of Superstitions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-19-282-916-5 (pp. 167-169, 397-399). Pickering, David. Dictionary of Superstitions. London: Cassell, 1995. ISBN 0-304-345350 (pp. 8-81, 190-192). Radford, Edith M. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1961. ISBN 0-304-345350 (pp. 249-250). Radford, Tim. "Today Is Friday the 13th — But Whatever You Do, Don't Worry." The Guardian. 13 June 2003. Simpson, J and S. Roud. Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-860398-3 (pp. 135-136, 355). Los Angeles Times. "Not Superstitious." 15 December 1912 (p. B14). The New York Times. "13 Sign on Indian Senator." 14 March 1908 (p. 6). The New York Times. "Fashion Plate Wins Metropolitan." 14 May 1910 (p. 11). The New York Times. "Wed Free Friday the 13th." 11 June 1913 (p. 1).