The century turns thirteen

The twenty-first century is having its thirteenth birthday. Thirteen is a native word to English. It comes to us from the Old English languages, þreotene from Mercian and þreotiene from West Saxon. It is a combination of þreo for three and -tene, -tiene meaning ten more than.

Thirteen has a stigma as an unlucky number but this has not always been the case. In medieval England 13 was lucky as it was the time when you were given a baker’s dozen. Bakers would give a thirteenth loaf to their customers to make sure that they were not short-changing them with weight.

Thirteen has always had a spiritual and mystical meaning because of its association with the moon. There are between 12 and 13 lunar months in a year and in about a third of years there will be 13 full moons (2012 had 13 full moons but not 2013).

Triskaidekaphobics, those that fear the number 13, are a relatively new phenomenon, the word first being used about a hundred years ago, from Greek treiskaideka for thirteen and phobia for fear. This phobia has created the situation in the modern world where the number 13 is avoided in numbering floors in buildings, seats on aircraft, and where Friday the 13th is considered unlucky.

Superstitions around thirteen started about three hundred years ago when thirteen became closely associated with the thirteen that had sat down for the Last Supper. Thirteen was then associated as an omen for the betrayal of Christ.

But regardless of the unlucky associations of thirteen all the portends for 2013 are good. All the best for 2013. Happy New Year!