THE BLOG
07/13/2012 02:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chaucer (and Others) on Friday the 13th

In a search for the source of the bad luck reputation of Friday the 13th, I came across numerous references to a line in Chaucer's Cantebury Tales -- "And on a Friday fell all this mischance" -- as the beginning of its literary reputation, unless one counts the crucifixion in the Bible, which maybe one should. That particular Friday, though, is called "Good Friday," so I don't know.

The explanation for 13 being an unlucky number seems to have to do with it being one beyond the perfect 12: hours on the clock, months of the year, apostles of Christ.... Others seem to think it may have something to do with Judas being the 13th -- and last -- to sit at the table. That, of course, was on a Thursday.

(Caution, math phobics: some math in the path ahead!)

Mathematically, 13 is a pretty lovely number. Just look at it. Who doesn't love the look of a 1 and a 3? It's a prime, which is always handy when you're having to memorize factors. And not just any prime: it's one of only three Wilson primes (along with 5 and 563), despite computerized efforts to find a fourth. It's a Fibonacci number, too -- a beautiful thing both in nature and in computers.

And it's the smallest emirp, which means a prime that is a different prime when reversed. Or that's what Wikipedia says it means. When you try to run "emirp" through Meriam-Webster.com, though, you get:

"The word you've entered isn't in the dictionary. Click on a spelling suggestion below or try again using the search bar above."

Dictionary.com gives you "no dictionary results."

Neither of Merriam-Webster nor Dictionary deigns to recognize "friggatriskaidekaphobia" either, but Wikipedia assures me it means "fear of Friday the 13th."

On the subject of the particularly ominous bad luck of Friday and 13 together, Snopes.com informs me that the belief that the superstition began with the arrest of the final Grand Master of the Knights Templar on Friday the 13th of October, 1307, is "a modern-day invention." None of the sources I found offered any real explanation for Friday the 13th being über-unlucky, though, beyond the old adage that two bad-luck days -- Fridays and 13ths -- don't make a good one.

But seriously, how unlucky can a day be when it inspires words like "emirp" and "friggatriskaidekaphobia"? Both words are quite fun to say. (Really, try it. Out loud. Right now.) And this is "Friday Fun," so I'm going with them even if they aren't any more real than the bad luck this day is supposed to bring... at least until midnight tonight.

Have a great reading and writing Friday the 13th. And the weekend beyond, too, if you survive the day's bad luck! - Meg

Meg Waite Clayton is the bestselling author of The Wednesday Sisters, a bestselling novel about reading, writing, and friendship, The Four Ms. Bradwells, the Bellwether Prize finalist The Language of Light, and the forthcoming The Wednesday Daughters. This comes from her blog, 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started