Nowadays, much of the western world looks at Friday the 13th as a day of bad luck. That hasn’t always been the case. In fact, there is no record of the superstition before the latter half of the 19th Century, and the notion didn’t become widespread until the 20th Century. It still isn’t universal: In Hispanic and Greek cultures, Tuesday the 13th is the day for bad luck. In Italy, it’s Friday the 17th.
Superstitions arise from fear—of an object, a place, a person, an idea… You name it, and there’s probably a related superstition born of someone’s bad experience, coupled with his or her refusal to shut up about it. When a fear becomes so extreme that a person can’t cope, the fear becomes a phobia.
Friday the 13th is such a fearsome date, there are two words meaning “fear of Friday the 13th”: friggatriskaidekaphobia and paraskavedekatriaphobia. One is based on a Norse root word; the other on Greek. If you can pronounce either, you’re braver than I.
Sadly, very few phobias have short, easy-to-say names. That, in itself, can provoke a phobia: hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, or the fear of long words. Seems to me there ought to be a name for fear of the word that means fear of long words.
Is there a word for the fear of fear? Yep: phobophobia. Fortunately, that term is short. Afflicting a phobophobe with hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia would be crueler than necessary. (I really do think there should be a word for the fear of that word—or at least the fear of typing that word.)
There are a ton of phobias (no wonder folks become phobophobic!), but in the interest of preventing pinaciphobia—the fear of lists—I’ll name only a few.
Chromophobia is the fear of bright colors. I’m surprised anyone escaped the psychedelic ’60s without developing this one.
Eisoptrophobia, or the fear of your own reflection, must be especially vexing for narcissists but handy for vampires.
Pteridophobia is the fear of ferns. Anthophobia is the fear of flowers and stems. People who are afraid of all plants are botanophobic. Needless to say, none of those people do much gardening.
Both caligynophobia and androphobia are rare in romance novels, thankfully. The former is fear of beautiful women; the latter, fear of men.
Likewise, few characters in romance novels—particularly heroines—suffer erythrophobia, or the fear of blushing.
Another rarity in romance novels is peladophobia, or fear of bald people. It’s difficult to be afraid of something that doesn’t exist.
The flipside of that coin is being afraid of that which does exist. That’s panphobia, or fear of everything.
Nomophobia is surprisingly common—or maybe not so surprisingly. It’s the fear of losing your cell phone.
Someone did make up this one, though: luposlipaphobia, or the fear of being pursued by timber wolves around a kitchen table while wearing socks on a newly waxed floor. We can thank Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side, for that one.
What are you afraid of? Tell us in the comments. I’ll bet there’s a word for it.
I wonder if there’s a word meaning fear there’s no term for your phobia...
Her short story “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas” won the coveted Peacemaker Award for Best Western Short Fiction. Her novel Prodigal Gun won the 2016 EPIC Award for Historical Romance and is the only novel-length western historical romance ever nominated for a Peacemaker.
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