Lucky and unlucky numbers

Oct 2023

Have you heard how all sorts of people think that 13 is an unlucky number, and Friday the 13th is an unlucky day? Lots of hotels will skip having a thirteenth floor, and the Apollo 13 mission was the only mission to the moon that failed. Some people think the number 13 is so unlucky that there’s even a name for the fear of it: triskaidekaphobia!

No one knows exactly where this superstition comes from but there are many theories. Some people think that it comes from a Norse legend where Loki joins a feast as the thirteenth of the gods, and then tricks the blind Hodr into shooting a mistletoe arrow to slay his brother Balder! Other people have suggested that it comes from the Last Supper in the Bible, where Jesus sits with his twelve disciples before he was betrayed.

It isn’t all bad though - in Finland, they celebrate National Accident Day on Friday the 13th, where they encourage everyone to be more careful and look after themselves.

Thirteen isn’t the only number that people have strong opinions on – the number seven is generally considered lucky. There are seven days in the week, seven colours in the rainbow and seven notes on a musical scale. What other groups of seven can you think of?

There are several East Asian countries, like China, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam, where the number four is seen as very unlucky instead. This is because it sounds very similar to the word for ‘death’ – scary!

Alex Bellos, curator-in-residence at the Science Museum in London, carried out an online poll of more than 30,000 people across the world to see what peoples favourite number was and seven won with the highest number of votes. Poor 110 didn't receive any!

So if there is a number you love or hate, you are probably not alone.