Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Fear of Fear Itself

This Friday is Friday the 13th. You may as well walk under ladders, cross paths with black cats, break mirrors, and ignore chain emails with reckless abandon, because it’s an unlucky day anyway.

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.

Most people have heard of triskaidekaphobia, or fear of the number 13. Whether they can spell the word is another matter.

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.

Pteronophobia is the fear of being tickled by feathers. Evidently no one is afraid of being tickled by anything else, because there is no term for a general fear of tickling.

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.

Didaskaleinophobia is the fear of going to school. Don’t tell your children.

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.

Anatidaephobia is the fear that somewhere in the world, a duck is watching you. No, I did not make that up.

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...

A Texan to the bone, Kathleen Rice Adams spends her days chasing news stories and her nights and weekends shooting it out with Wild West desperados. Leave the upstanding, law-abiding heroes to other folks. In Kathleen’s stories, even the good guys wear black hats.

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.

Visit Kathleen’s hideout on the web at, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and/or Pinterest.


  1. I have more than one fear. Right now--I fear HTML Code...probably it's called HotTamaleMamaLawsyAPhobia. Something like that, anyway.
    I'm a natural-born scaredy cat, which means I fear any movie, tv program, or book that is gruesome on some way--zombies, et. Now, I can read or watch shoot-'em-ups-knock-down-dragouts, but nothing paranormal or evil, such as vampires and witches...that sort of thing.
    I do have a real fear of water...not a shower, bath, or hair washing...but bodies of water. You could not pay me enough to build a house close to a river, a lake, a stream, or even a "Draw", because we all know what can happen in a draw after a rain upstream. For this reason, I don't care for the ocean--Beaches and seaside resorts do not entice me. Galveston Island? I'd be very afraid to live there!
    I don't have some of the common phobias--I'm not afraid of snakes, insects (except wasps), spiders, or blood. Yesterday, my husband had to have a little facial surgery at the dermatologist, and I watched the whole thing. The dermatologist says I am unique--most women hide their eyes.
    (But I do fear vomit.)
    I guess that's all. Very interesting post!

    1. Celia, if there is not a phobia called HotTamaleMamaLawsyAPhobia, we simply must invent one! That name is just too good to let languish in obscurity. :-D

      Obviously I don't have a huge fear of water, but I'm not a fan of bridges. I'd call my feelings about the Rainbow Bridge between Orange and Port Arthur, Texas, a phobia. I'd rather swim the Neches River than drive cross that thing. It is terrifying: tallest bridge in Texas, maximum incline allowed by law, and two lanes wide! I shake just thinking about it. (Fear of bridges is gephyrophobia. Maybe I have bridge-specific gephyrophobia?)

      I'm with you on gruesome, grisly, and gory. Did you ever see any of the driver's ed films from the '70s? Chock-full of blood and guts and severed limbs. Absolutely nauseating. I still don't have a clue what folks expected kids to learn from watching those shock treatments. Kids think they're immortal. You're not going to scare them out of behaving badly by shoving a dead body in their faces.

      How'd I get off on that tangent? **blink, blink**

    2. Ahh... driver's ed and the dreaded "Rellik" film (for those who didn't experience this: Rellik is Killer spelled backwards). 0_o I don't recall the storyline, but it was a favorite of driver's ed teachers everywhere.

      Thanks for the trip down 9th grade lane.

    3. Happy to oblige, ma'am. I figure if I've got to be smacked in the face with that memory, EVERYBODY deserves to be smacked in the face with that memory. :-D

  2. Kathleen,

    I have one absolute fear, but I couldn't find a formal phobia name for it. It's a situation called Locked-In Syndrome. It's the fear of being paralyzed, and your mind is as sharp as ever, but you can't communicate that to anyone.

    I do, however, have things I loathe entirely. Each one can, given the proper application of circumstances, escalate to behaviors on my part that are known to be highly entertaining for the viewer.

    *Small places/places with if-y escape (claustrophobia)
    *Crowds & where people gather (agoraphobia)
    *Spiders (arachnophobia)
    *Clowns [especially the Stephen King type, but not the rodeo variety *wink*] (coulrophobia)

    So Friday the 13th can't scare me. Bring it on.

    1. Kaye, I just shuddered. My mother's mother -- a brilliant woman -- suffered a series of strokes that left her completely paralyzed. She couldn't move, couldn't talk, couldn't communicate in any way, shape, or form. Her eyes remained bright and intelligent, though. She was still there, stuck inside a body that suddenly had turned on her and become a prison. That is my greatest fear.

      I've never understood coulrophobia (except in the case of Pennywise), but reportedly it's not all that uncommon. With clowns lurking behind every McDonald's sign, it's no wonder kids grow up to be ax-murderers.

  3. My son was born on Friday the 13th, so it's a lucky day for me. As for those long words, yes on the fear of typing them. LOL. I love copy and paste.

    1. How do you think those long words got into this blog post? Copy-and-paste is my BFF. :-D

      Okay, you get a pass on friggatriskaidekaphobia, but don't go walking under ladders, crossing paths with black cats, or breaking mirrors, just in case. (You're on your own with the email chain letters.)

  4. I have a fear of sarcastic Texas women---what would you call that? ;-) While I cannot in good conscious allow the radio to play at the volume "13" - it's an odd quirk for me, more than a fear.

    For the longest time, I assumed one of my fears was heights. Recently, I realized that is not technically a correct statement. Edges terrify me. Standing near the edge of a bridge or cliff will cause my mind to shut down. I can't handle edges, and it stems from a childhood accident where I fell, quite literally, down a steep hill head over feet. Luck was with me that day, for I didn't break my neck. I did however land at the feet of one of the most handsome young men who scooped me up in his arms...wait, I was saying I was afraid of something, wasn't I? ;-)

    1. In your case, I would call a fear of sarcastic Texas women justified, but if you're afraid of handsome young men scooping you up, you've got bigger problems. ;-)

  5. Lots of fears, but I work to ignore and try to get rid of them. So far it's not working out so well. Guess you can't blame a person for trying.

    Always enjoyed this type of information, not that I may ever use it. Doris

    1. Hang in there, Doris. You'll either overcome your fears...or collect more. ;-)

  6. When I was a kid I read The 13th is Magic. I loved it. Friday the 13th holds no fears for me.

    What I am afraid of is:
    Compressed gas
    June bugs
    Open closet doors- but only in my bedroom
    Fireworks exploding but not firework displays from a distance
    Balloons popping but not balloons

    I suppose most of that could be simplified by fear of loud, sudden noises and/or fear of being blown to smithereens.

    1. I remember you saying something about compressed gas cylinders once. Something about your son and a gas grill, maybe? In any case, it seems you may have good cause to be afraid of being blown to smithereens. :-D

  7. I wish i could come up with something as interesting as a fear that somewhere in the world a duck is watching me, but my fear is pretty garden variety (no I'm not botanophobic either:fear of heights. But I am so over the top afraid of heights i can't even watch other people standing on tall objects. That movie about that crazy French guy who walked on a tightrope strung between the World Trade Towers almost sent me to the ER with chest pains.
    I'm so afraid of heights that the closest I've ever come to divorce was a trip to the Grand Canyon with my family, where we learned my husband and I have different comfort zones in regard edges of cliffs and small children. Just thinking about makes me wonder why I've stayed with that man for as long as I have.
    I'm surprised I even live in a two-story house when there is the option of ranch houses.
    I'm sure I died from falling from a great height in a past life. Or maybe it's because my father was a fireman and broke his back on two separate occasions by falling from a height.(that does remind me i am also afraid of Xmas trees with lights on them). Even talking about this subject is making me break out in a cold sweat.
    thanks for a fun read!

    1. and sorry about the typos.It's hard to reread what you wrote in this small box. I feel a fear of small boxes creeping up on me.

    2. YIKES! Your dad broke his back TWICE as a fireman? Bless his heart. Now there's a hero for you.

      Heights bother me -- a LOT. Those glass elevators on the outside of buildings? What sadistic monster came up with that idea? **shudder**

      No need to fear typos. Just pretend you meant to leave out the L in public. Wait... Maybe that isn't the best example. (I really did that once, in a press release. I pretended someone else wrote it. ;-) )

  8. What an interesting post, inspired by this unlucky date, although I've never let it stop me from treating it like any other. Makes me wonder if I should admit this while there's still a few hours left of the day! I also enjoyed everyone's comments as well.

    1. Thanks, Cheri! I love the comments. I can't speak to the veracity of the superstition about bad luck, but it does seem all the nuts come out of the woodwork on Friday the 13th, doesn't it? :-D

  9. I think the cure for phobia is to pronounce it. If you can actually say the name, you're done. Oh wait, I have a better idea; spell the dang name of the phobia and you're cured. ZAP!
    Now this was a very interesting blog, Kathleen. The only thing that scare me about Friday the 13th is the movies. Yikes!

    1. Sarah, anyone who can spell those phobia names, much less pronounce them, shouldn't be afraid of ANYTHING. All I can say is "thank goodness for copy-and-paste!" :-D

      Glad you enjoyed the blog. I wouldn't know about the Friday the 13th movies. I never could make myself watch one! Yeesh.

  10. Kathleen, you always have wonderful blog posts. No wonder everyone loves and admires you!

    1. That's sweet of you to say, Caroline, but I have a feeling most folks things there should be a "crankytexanaphobia." ;-)

      {{Hugs}}, dear lady. :-)


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