When Black Friday Comes

Not being much of a recreational shopper myself, I always thought the phrase “Black Friday” had some pretty ominous overtones. At its worst, people get trampled and pepper-sprayed in WalMart; at its most benign they just run up their credit cards irreparably. The idea of getting up at 4 a.m. to wait on line for anything—even Steely Dan tickets—smacks of some questionable sanity as far as I’m concerned.

Over at the Visual Thesaurus, Ben Zimmer bears out the dark side of Black Friday. Turns out it had nothing to do with stores—or shoppers—being “in the black.” Rather, its first mentions described worker absenteeism and traffic jams. According to a 1961 article in Public Relations News, congestion in Philadelphia’s shopping district had gotten so bad on the two days following Thanksgiving that city merchants proposed renaming them “Big Friday” and “Big Saturday,” in the name of spinning bad conditions for commerce’s sake:

The media cooperated in spreading the news of the beauty of Christmas-decorated downtown Philadelphia, the popularity of a “family-day outing” to the department stores during the Thanksgiving weekend, the increased parking facilities, and the use of additional police officers for guaranteeing a free flow of traffic … Rosen reports that business over the weekend was so good that merchants are giving downtown Philadelphia “a starry-eyed new look.”

Never mind the fact that it’s hard to picture downtown Philadelphia as “starry-eyed”—the designations never really took, and Black Friday the day remains. I do have some holiday shopping recommendations to make, but given the current state of things, and with empathy for Like Fire readers who may be in the same general boat, I’ll be posting them on Blue Monday. Stay tuned.

(Black Flag Friday logo courtesy of BC Surf & Sport, as far as I can tell.)


2 Comments to When Black Friday Comes

  1. nbm's Gravatar nbm
    November 26, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t suspect that the the “in the black” explanation was a faux etymology. And I am usually dubious of all-too-plausible narratives; I guess this one was simple enough, without too many decorative details. Remember: “Merely corroborative detail intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative,” as Pooh-Bah says of his story of how the detached head of Nanki-Poo had bowed to him post-execution. Thanks.

  2. December 1, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink


    This was an informative, and somewhat humorous article regarding Black Friday. I enjoyed reading it, and learned some interesting facts.

    I’ve never been a Black Friday shopper. The few times I have been out on Black Friday, I haven’t particularly enjoyed it. Though I will say that I’d rather shop on Black Friday then work on Black Friday–especially in retail. : )

    MyForgottenPen (A Progressive Writing Guide)

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