Blog Excerpts

Back in Black: On the Origins of "Black Friday"

On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, Americans kick off the holiday shopping season with a bang. We look back to a Word Routes column by lexicographer Ben Zimmer exploring the origins of the phrase "Black Friday." It is not, as many believe, the day when retailers' balance sheets change from red to black.

The latest research on the origins of "Black Friday" has been conducted by Bonnie Taylor-Blake, who has shared her findings on the mailing list of the American Dialect Society. The earliest known example of "Black Friday" to refer to the day after Thanksgiving is from an article entitled "Friday After Thanksgiving" in the November 1951 issue of Factory Management and Maintenance. The article (posted by Taylor-Blake here) was about worker absenteeism on that day, rather than the shopping rush.

But in the early 1960s, "Black Friday" came to be used in Philadelphia to describe the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush. Taylor-Blake discovered an article in a public relations newsletter from 1961 that uses "Black Friday" in its current meaning.

The origin of "Black Friday" among Philadelphia police officers of the early '60s is further reinforced by a 1994 article for The Philadelphia Inquirer by Joseph P. Barrett, who recounted his role in popularizing the expression when he worked as a reporter for The Philadelphia Bulletin. He credits the traffic cops, who had to work 12-hour shifts the day after Thanksgiving.

Read the whole column here, and read more in the recent New York Times article, "The Transformation of Black Friday." You can also listen to Ben Zimmer speak on the topic on WBUR's Radio Boston.


Rate this article:

Click here to read more articles from Blog Excerpts.

Join the conversation

Comments from our users:

Friday November 29th 2013, 7:59 PM
Comment by: Beth M. (India)
This is a fantastic article...thanks for sharing!

Do you have a comment?

Share it with the Visual Thesaurus community.

Your comments:

Sign in to post a comment!

We're sorry, you must be a subscriber to comment.

Click here to subscribe today.

Already a subscriber? Click here to login.