Black Friday & Cyber Monday

The Friday after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. It’s the start of the holiday shopping season and is the busiest shopping day of the year. Commonly thought to be so-called because it is the day that retailers go “into the black,” in other words become profitable for the year, this is actually not the origin of the name. Like other “black” days, Black Friday is so-called because it is not a pleasant day. In this case, it is the traffic and crowds that make the day unbearable.

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Black Friday was actually coined by Philadelphia police in reference to the traffic created by the combination of shoppers and the crowds attending the annual Army-Navy football game held in the city on that day. The term dates to at least 1961, when it appears in the newsletter Public Relations News on 18 December:

For downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping days normally are the two following Thanksgiving Day. Resulting 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.

The term Black Friday was disliked by merchants at first as they thought it would cast a pall upon the day and discourage shoppers, but eventually they came around and embraced it.

There is an earlier use of Black Friday from 1951 in reference to employee absenteeism in a Baltimore factory on that day. It’s not known whether this is a one-off use or an early example of the term we know today.

And the Monday after Thanksgiving has been christened Cyber Monday. This day is alleged to be the busiest online shopping day of the year—with people using their internet connections at work to shop. The day, however, is not the busiest online shopping day of the year. In fact, it is nowhere near the busiest online shopping day.

Cyber Monday was coined on 19 November 2005 when Shop.org, an association of online retailers, made the claim to the New York Times that it was expecting a “substantial sales increase” on that day:

Hence the catchy Cyber Monday, so called because millions of productive Americans, fresh off a weekend at the mall, are expected to return to work and their high-speed Internet connections on Nov. 28 and spend the day buying what they liked in all those stores.


Works Cited:

“Black Friday, n.” Oxford English Dictionary Online. Third Edition. September 2011. Web. Accessed 25 November 2011.

Taylor-Blake, Bonnie. “‘Black Friday’ (day after Thanksgiving), 1951.” American Dialect Society Email List (ADS-L). 4 August 2009.

Zimmer, Ben. “The Origins of ‘Black Friday.’” Word Routes. 25 November 2011. Web. Accessed 25 November 2011.

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