The international creep of English is no better exemplified than by “Black Friday”, the day immediately following Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Although shopping used to be far from the minds of those giving thanks for what they had, Black Friday has become a retail bonanza nonpareil and has been considered the biggest shopping day of the year. Moreover, it is now established in at least seven European countries – with its name in English untranslated – and supported by a website, making the rush to get ahead on holiday shopping a habit without borders.
How did the term “Black Friday” come about? One view is that “black” was taken to symbolize positive financial results (to be “in the black”) versus negative, or “red”, numbers for losses. But historically, Black Friday, and associations of “Black” with other days of the week, has a mostly negative connotation:
- 24 September 1869: Black Friday, the collapse of the US stock market following a period of speculation and leading to a precipitous drop in the price of gold
- 24 October 1929: Black Thursday, another steep drop in the US stock market and considered the start of the Great Depression (Black Tuesday, in the following week, witnessed a further 11% drop in the market despite traders’ efforts to prop up prices)
- 19 October 1987: Black Monday, another US stock market crash, this one representing the market’s largest percentage decline
- 16 September 1992: Black Wednesday, the day the United Kingdom was forced to withdraw the pound sterling from the European Exchange Mechanism (ERM) after the country was unable to keep the pound above the ERM minimum rate
For its link to retail sales, “Black Friday” is believed to have been coined in 1966 in Philadelphia (USA) because of the negative consequences of crowds trying to shop: long lines, traffic problems and even violence. And because it immediately followed Thanksgiving, employees sought to take the Friday off or not go to work, leading to many more people present in stores.
Today, however, Black Friday is profitable for retailers (sales) and consumers (deals). Internationally, it may just be a term that indicates a day of sales; how far the history is known and understood is debatable. As a sign of the times, the first day of the following week has become known as “Cyber Monday”, when online offers proliferate following consumer treks into shops.
Take-a-Break Tuesday, anyone?