Disusage presents the contradictions and foibles of usage manuals, style guides, and the quirky folks who love them. This week: Black Friday is not named for retail’s big profits.
in the black. (of a person or organization) not owing any
—from New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd edition, 2005
black, vb.; blacken.
Both verbs mean “to make or become black,” but black is confined to the narrow, physical sense of using black polish
(“Frank blacked his boots”), whereas blacken
is used in all other physical senses (“the sky blackened”) as well as in
figurative senses (“the candidates mood blackened when the indictment was
But the most common figurative sense—in which blacken means something like “to vilify, defame”—is widely avoided because of its invidious association with race.
—from Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd edition, 2009
“‘Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis’ is a disease second only to the bubonic plague in its effects. At least that's the feeling of those who have to get production out, when the “Black Friday” comes along. The shop may be half empty, but every absentee was sick—and can prove it.
—from Factory Management and Maintenance 109, 1951.
‘Black Friday’ came out of the old Philadelphia Police Department's traffic
squad. The cops used it to describe the worst traffic jams which annually
occurred in Center City on the Friday after Thanksgiving... Every ‘Black
Friday,’ no traffic policeman was permitted to take the day off. The division
was placed on 12 tours of duty, and even the police band was ordered to Center
City. It was not unusual to see a trombone player directing traffic.”
—from “This Friday was Black with Traffic,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 1994
traffic jams are an irksome problem to the police and, in Philadelphia, it
became customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black
Friday and Black Saturday. Hardly
a stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by the merchants with
their Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, one of the country's most
experienced municipal PR executives.
He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black
Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday.”
—from Public Relations News, 1961
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Image via the New York City Municipal Archives.