A few days ago, I started to receive some rather apocalyptic-sounding emails. Usually friendly types like Amazon and Argos were warning me that “Black Friday” was approaching. How menacing. Or maybe it’s something more benign, like dress-down-Friday for Goths?
“Black Friday” was until (surprisingly very) recently an American Thing. Full of turkey and goodwill following Thanksgiving, the US population make the most of their second day off, and flock en masse to the mall. The shops respond by offering seemingly incredible discounts. But by now, we all know this.
What naturally interested me (apart from any reduced Lego or Frozen dresses) is the term. “Black Friday” – doesn’t sound very jolly or make me think of merry shopping sprees. Wikipedia offers a few different origins. The day after Thanksgiving marked the start of the festive shopping season – we’re all familiar with the concept of “One festival is over, let’s start pushing the next one!” One explanation of the term is that it was coined by the Philadelphia police in 1969 – a description of the chaos caused by an entire city all trying to shop at once. The term spread across the States and more recently, worldwide.
In the 1980s (when else?) the term was given a more positive commercial derivation – the day when retailers go “into the black”, i.e., make a profit. Can’t argue with that.
But a new derivation caused controversy yesterday when basketball player J R Smith stated “’Black Friday’ stemmed from slavery. It was the day after Thanksgiving when slave traders would sell slaves for a discount to assist plantation owners with chores for the upcoming winter (cutting and stacking fire wood, winter-proofing).” He was met with howls of derision and indignation for historical inaccuracy. He removed the post.
I’m now off to prune the many emails I’ve received offering “Black Friday Deals”. The term that originally referred to the congestion caused by vast volumes of consumers hitting the shops is now clogging up my inbox, not the streets. As Christmas shopping becomes an increasingly remote activity, “Black Friday” will become an even more esoteric – and completely inappropriate – phrase.