Blog – It’s All About Language

Black Friday History: The Fascinating Story Behind the Name

 

Black Friday is a day of deals, discounts, bargains, and huge sales. The Friday after Thanksgiving Day in the United States marks the start of the Christmas shopping season. With millions of people eager to take advantage of the festive sales, it is one of the busiest and most profitable days of the year for retailers. But where exactly does the name come from?

A common assumption is that it refers to shops going from ‘in the red’ (meaning operating at a loss) to ‘in the black’ (meaning positive earnings). However, the origin of the term has nothing to do with commercial success.

 

Going For Gold

The first recorded use of Black Friday was in 1869. Two speculators in the United States, Jay Gould, and James Fisk attempted to buy as much of the nation’s gold as possible to drive up prices and sell it for enormous profits. However, their plan unravelled on Friday, September 24, when the price of gold crashed. The stock market joined in on the plunge, which financially ruined many investors. The ripples from these events affected the country’s economy for several years.

There is no concrete evidence on who coined the term Black Friday for the day after Thanksgiving or when it started being used, however a lot of evidence points to the 1950s. An article in the November 1951 issue of the journal Factory Management and Maintenance discussed how factories were having trouble getting employees to show up to work the day after the holiday. Therefore it was a ‘Black Friday’ for employers. Since stores were open, many absentees started their holiday shopping.

Holiday Traffic

Police in Philadelphia was also referring to the days following Thanksgiving as Black Friday. They had to work long shifts because of crowds of shoppers and the annual Army-Navy American football match on Saturday. The phrase started gaining traction among the city’s retailers, police, and bus drivers who had to cope with the excessive holiday traffic.

So far, the connotations of Black Friday were negative. Shop owners and merchants soon realised this and tried to rebrand the weekend as ‘Big Friday’ and ‘Big Saturday,’ but these did not catch on. So they embraced the term but changed its meaning to reflect increased sales and healthy balance sheets. This positive association spread from the 1980s onwards and since then has morphed into the four-day shopping extravaganza we know today.

Black Friday Vocabulary

Whether you’re reading about Black Friday or out there amongst all the other shoppers, you will most likely come across related words and phrases. Among the most frequently used are:

BOGO – this acronym stands for buy one, get one. It is a sales promotion designed to get consumers to buy more by offering a discount. For example, buy one, get one free and buy one, get one-half price.

Early bird specials – low prices for people who shop early. So if a store opens at 8:00 a.m., prices may be extra- low for the first hour.

Cyber sale – low prices are only available online.

Night owl deals – special low prices for people who shop late. Shops want people shopping all the time, so night deals encourage them to come after work instead of going straight home.

Gear up – you may hear that shops are gearing up for a busy time. This is a phrasal verb that means to prepare for something.

A flood of – when websites and stores receive a large volume of orders, they are said to have received a flood of orders. In this context, the phrase means a large number that comes quickly and suddenly.

 

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