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Why Do We Call It 'Black Friday'?

According to one popular belief, the reason we call today "Black Friday" is because it's the big shopping day when the ink in business ledgers turns from red to black. That's not the real origin, according to experts.

Everybody uses the term "Black Friday" to describe today, the big shopping day after Thanksgiving, but why?

No, it doesn't mean the mood of those who boycott the annual crush of bargain seekers. Nor is it the risk of getting a black eye while jostling for coveted items.

"One popular but false explanation is that the name marks the day retailers end an 11-month stretch of red ink and harvest profits for the first time all year," said a Bloomberg Businessweek article Tuesday.

"There are a number of myths about the origin of the name," wrote linguist Ben Zimmer in the Visual Thesaurus last year. "Retailers would like you to believe that it's the day when stores turn a profit on the year, thus 'going into the black.' But don't you believe it."

Zimmer – language columnist for The Boston Globe and the former "On Language" columnist for The New York Times Magazine – said use of the term for the shopping rush after Thanksgiving can be traced to Philadelphia police officers in the early 1960s describing their headaches and 12-hour shifts caused by severe traffic congestion. 

He cited research by Bonnie Taylor-Blake showing that the interpretation of "Black Friday" as a reference to businesses getting into the black on that day didn't arise until 1980s.

"So the 'back in the black' explanation was clearly a way to rebrand Black Friday with more positive connotations," Zimmer said.

"It's worth noting," he added, "that all of the historical predecessors for the modern Black Friday were negative events."

"Black Friday" does indeed have a dark pedigree, having been associated with a number of financial disasters and originally with a political threat. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) traces its origin in England back to Dec. 6, 1745 when the landing of the Young Pretender was announced in London.

The first U.S. "Black Friday" noted by the OED was Sept. 24, 1869, when a financial panic struck Wall Street.

Any panic associated with Black Friday today usually centers on whether the store will sell out of whatever you want to buy before you can lay hands on it.

And if present trends continue, we may need to add "Black Thursday" to the lexicon.

This year, Black Friday sales began hours before midnight on Thursday night at many retailers, before many folks had finished digesting their Thanksgiving dinners.

See the attached short video of eager shoppers lined up outside Target in Albany for early admission Thursday night. 

How are you spending Black Friday? You can tell us in the comments.

Californicated1 November 23, 2012 at 10:24 PM
"Black Friday", as the term is used these days, is nothing more than just another marketing ploy when you get right down to it. It's significance to retail isn't that different than "Flag Day", "Columbus Day", "Cyber Monday" or any other day of the year. It's more about "buzz" and "hype" than it is about sales these days, where the closer we get to Christmas, the more likely one will see better sales and prices out there, especially for merchandise and other inventory that isn't moving as fast as the latest hot gadget or toy out there. The week before Christmas and the week after will probably have better sales out there as more retailers panic about how fast their inventory is moving, but "Black Friday" is not any more significant than Memorial Day or even Labor Day for that matter, as retailers are trying to turn their merchandise into money by getting shoppers into their stores. Like Memorial Day and Labor Day, "Black Friday" is only significant because it is on a weekday where a lot of working people out there have the day off and that these folks can spend their day shopping in addition to the other traditional days off--the weekends and perhaps Christmas Eve Day. But it really is not worth fighting the hordes out there for the best deals on anything these days, because sales come and sales go and if the money would be better spent somewhere else, it makes no sense wasting it over "Black Friday".
Kenny November 24, 2012 at 01:01 AM
A great day to stay home & clean.
AmyWC November 26, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Yes, those evil business people that force us to buy these things. Also known as those who keep the economy moving and keep people employed.
Michael Night November 27, 2012 at 12:41 AM
AT&T in San Ramon employs this short white woman named Teresa that is dating this guy named Migel who is from Oakland and a tow truck driver/pediphile/meth user who is wanted for unpaid drug debts. Teressa is a receptionist at AT&T. If you need tows or drugs contact her or tow company called Mickeys. They are listed in Oakland.
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