Tomorrow is Friday the 13th. It is true that people believe less and less in superstitions, but there are still many who, on days like today, go about their routines with great caution.
In the world of translation, Friday the 13th is also a paradigm of the so-called cultural translation.
What is cultural translation?
Carbonell (1997: 48) defines cultural translation as the following: “cultural translation is the relationship between the conditions of knowledge production in a given culture and how knowledge from a different cultural context is relocated and reinterpreted according to the conditions in which all knowledge takes place. These conditions are intimately linked to politics, power strategies and stereotype-producing mythology, which establish a representation of other cultures”.
In short, we can define cultural translation as a practice in which the source text is reinterpreted according to the specific anthropological characteristics of the target culture, so that both texts – source text and target text – function exactly the same in both contexts, despite the intercultural differences. In this way, not only are the context, terminology, syntax and style of the text transferred from one language to another but the translator is also immersed in a process of research and adaptation of the text to ensure its full functionality in the target language.
Do you remember the infamous film saga “Friday the 13th“? You know, the films that terrified most teenagers in the 80s? The title of the saga tries to encompass all the curses and bad luck that are ingrained into the idea of Friday the 13th in English-speaking countries, as well as the accumulation of misfortunes that take place on that day. However, when it was released in Spain, the title didn’t work, as it didn’t have the same impact as in the English-speaking world, precisely because, for people in Spain, Friday the 13th does not have any kind of cultural meaning associated with it, nor does it carry any condition of bad luck.
How would the title of the film have worked in Spain? Well, maybe if it had been called Martes 13 (Tuesday the 13th). Oh no, Jason!
Why the 13th?
In Latin cultures, such as Spain, the number 13 is associated with bad luck in a fairly general sense, for various reasons that go back to religious beliefs, mythology and historical legends.
Firstly, embedded into the Christian religious tradition, there are three main reasons for the hatred of the number 13. Firstly, there were 13 diners at the Last Supper (12 +1 traitor). It was also thought that Jesus was crucified on the 13th. Finally, just to round out why the number 13 is so hated, in the Book of Revelation, the Antichrist appears precisely in the 13th chapter. However, the association of evil with the number 13 is not only found in Christianity: in Kabbalah, there were also 13 evil spirits, and in tarot cards, the number 13 represents death.
We can all agree that the number 13 has a long historical tradition associated with bad luck. Yet, here comes the contradiction, why Tuesday in some places and Friday in others?
While in Spanish culture the ominous day is marked on Tuesday, which is represented by Mars, the Roman god of war, and is associated with violence and destruction, in Anglo-Saxon culture, the focus is on the fact that the day of the crucifixion of Jesus was on a Friday. Furthermore, and gaining great historical relevance, it has been proven that on Friday 13th October 1307, the persecution against the Knights Templar began, which ended with the destruction of the order.
Circling back to the tradition that derived from the Christian religion, it is said that on Tuesday the 13th, the fall of the Tower of Babel, the fall of Constantinople and the conquest of Játiva by the Muslims took place.
Tuesday the 13th is a deep-rooted superstition in Spanish culture, although Friday the 13th is much more known worldwide.
Italy, another turn of events
If that wasn’t enough, in Italy, neither Tuesday the 13th nor Friday the 13th have much relevance to the population. There, bad luck is associated with Friday the 17th!
To understand this, several reasons must be taken into account:
For Italians (figli di pitagora!), 17 was in the middle of two perfect numbers, 16 and 18, and was therefore ill-considered. In the same way that in the English-speaking tradition the crucifixion of Jesus is taken as a reference, the Italian tradition focuses on the flood myth, which took place on Friday the 17th. In the Smorfia Napoletana, 17 and bad luck go hand in hand. Finally, to add a macabre touch to the matter, the word VIXI (dead), an anagram of XVII, was written on Roman tombs.
Since Italians are just as superstitious as we are, they decided to their take health into their own hands and warn against Fridays and Tuesdays: “Né di venere né di marte, né si sposa né si parte” (“On Tuesdays [and Fridays] you neither marry nor set sail”).
Phobia of the number 13
Well, the number is not exactly… a pretty number (whatever that means). However, there are in fact people who take their superstitions to the extreme, and, on top of those who have a genuine phobia of the number 13, there are many who have a phobia specifically of Tuesday the 13th, or Friday the 13th.
Below is a small explanatory table of these terms:
|Phobia of the number 13||Triscaidecafobia||Triskaidekaphobia||Triskaïdékaphobie||Triscaidecafobia|
|Phobia of Tuesday the 13th||Trezidavomartiofobia||Trezidavomartiophobia||–||–|
|Phobia of Friday the 13th||Parascevedecatriafobia|
|Phobia of Friday the 17th||–||–||–||Eptacaidecafobia|
Culture clash, Asian countries
While half of Europe and parts of Latin America shudder at the number 13, in East Asian countries, the number has such a good reputation that it is considered a lucky number! This number is consider lucky thanks to the Chinese pronunciation of the number 3 (三 – Sān), which is very similar to the word live (生活 – Shēng huó). However, they are in no position to lecture us on numerical superstitions: the number 4 is considered to bring much worse luck than our Tuesday 13th because, unlike the number three, the Chinese and Japanese pronunciation of the number four is related to the word “death”. As such, it is common in these countries to not see lifts with the number 4.
So, just in case, we remind you of the famous Spanish saying: “On Tuesday 13th do not get married and do not set sail” (Martes y trece ni te cases ni te embarques) – and if you are Italian, not on Friday either.
Selva Pereira, T.A., Algunos apuntes sobre la traducción cultural, Transfer revista electrónica sobre traducción e interculturalidad, V: 1 (mayo 2010), pp. 1-11. ISSN: 1886-5542.
 Translation of excerpt taken from Selva Pereira, T.A., Algunos apuntes sobre la traducción cultural, Transfer revista electrónica sobre traducción e interculturalidad, V: 1 (mayo 2010), pp. 1-11. ISSN: 1886-5542.
 National Geographic: Available: https://historia.nationalgeographic.com.es/a/por-que-se-dice-que-dia-13-trae-mala-suerte_15738
Bachelor's degree in Translation and Interpreting. Degree in Law. Sworn Translator ES-FR No. 8381. Translator and proofreader in the French and English to Spanish combinations.
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