Grammar

How Black Friday Earned Its Name

123RF

Ever wondered why the day after Thanksgiving became known as “Black Friday?” Well wonder no more!

One might reasonably assume that the term has an economic origin. In the old days of mechanical adding machines, negative numbers were printed in red ink, while positive numbers were printed in black ink. That’s why we equate going into debt as “going into the red” and why having positive cash flow means “staying in the black.”

For retailers, the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional first day of the Christmas shopping season, is certainly the opportunity to get into the black. This year alone, experts are anticipating more than $600 billion in holiday spending.

But when it comes to language, logic doesn’t always work out so well.

Snopes.com reports on one of those ridiculous emails that pass from person to person when someone is too lazy to bother checking facts before clicking “Forward.” This little gem suggests that Black Friday originated during slave times, when slave traders would offer a big sale on their slaves to plantation owners; therefore “Black Friday”literally referred to skin color.

How anyone can possibly imagine that a term with a directly-racial (and obvious) origin could still be in regular use considering the constant onslaught of the political-correctness police is beyond me.

While some say “Black Friday’s” use didn’t really begin until 1961 — more on that in a moment, Snopes tracked down a “first use” from a decade earlier. It was the term referred to by employers who complained too many workers called in sick on Friday to get the four-day weekend.

The 1961 version is attributed to Philadelphia Police officers, who complained of long hours, huge traffic jams and big crowds shopping for Christmas presents and taking advantage of big sales. That becomes the first use of the day that refers to the sale aspect.

Meanwhile, About.com points out what is likely obvious: retailers weren’t delighted with the term. After all, “Black Thursday” in 1929 precipitated the Great Depression. And if you’re a retailer, why would you want a day of sales connected, even remotely, with a reminder of that?

Likely realizing the name wasn’t going to disappear any time soon, retailers just decided to embrace the lousy name, but put a positive spin on it with more and more elaborate sales that started earlier and earlier. I can remember a time when Black Friday still always began on Friday.

These days, Black Friday isn’t early enough for some retailers, which means they’re open on Thanksgiving.

Maybe they’re trying to take “Black Thursday” away from the Depression.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.