Defining Black Friday

Creative Commons photo by Steve Rhodes

Black Friday at a mall in San Francisco in 2009. (Creative Commons photo by Steve Rhodes)

The annual Black Friday stories are already in the news.

The News & Observer, for example, offered this preview on the Sunday front page. By the end of this week, Black Friday will almost certainly be the top story on TV news, with the inevitable footage of shoppers milling around in malls and beating down the doors of “big box” stores.

But where does the term  come from? Why is the day after Thanksgiving called Black Friday? This article in Time magazine offers two explanations:

  • Because it’s the day that many stores expect to make a profit, or out of the red and into the black, for the year.
  • Because newspapers in Philadelphia began calling it that to describe the flood of shoppers in the streets and in stores.

If we are going to cover this as big news, we should at least define our terms. This can be done in the stories themselves or, better yet, in a separate textbox.

Happy Thanksgiving!

UPDATE: Ben Zimmer at Visual Thesaurus explains the Philadelphia connection to the term, and Bill Walsh of The Washington Post offers his viewpoint.


One Comment

  1. Black Friday is defined as the day after Thanksgiving, right? The origin of the term is a different issue from its definition. I don’t know why the origin matters when writing about Black Friday shopping, and the term seems prevalent enough by now that defining it is pedantic.

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