As you probably know, I was born and raised in Panama. My native language is Spanish, though I’ve been struggling with the language of Shakespeare since I was six. I’ve been to the United States on several occasions when I worked for Texaco, but never lived in the country. Therefore, there are hundreds if not thousands of idiomatic phrases which I don’t fully understand, since it only makes sense to a native American. For example, “you’re pulling my leg”, has nothing to with a leg being pulled. I could give you several examples more, but you get my point.
When I first bumped into the term, “Black Friday”, I thought it was related to something bad or sinister, like a Wall Street crash or the assassination of a Mafia member. I was absolutely wrong. It has nothing to do with Wall Street or Al Capone. Anybody in the States will tell you that Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when shoppers swarm the stores and malls looking desperately for bargains. For businesses, the day after Thanksgiving can be the highest sales day of the year and is considered a barometer for planning what to do the rest of the season.
Why is Black Friday called “Black Friday”? The answer is pretty simple—it’s the day retailers go “into the black,” or turn a profit for the year. It’s black because revenues exceed expenses. On the other hand, a “Red Friday” would mean that a business turned a loss for the day, meaning that expenses exceeded revenues. Probably you’ve heard the expression: “This company is leaking red ink all over the place.” What the expression really means, is that the company is operating at a loss. The goal is to operate in the black; the bottom line should show a profit. That’s the way a capitalist system should normally work.
But it turns out the term has a darker, less happy origin. In 1966, Black Friday was the name the Philadelphia Police Department gave to the Friday after Thanksgiving. The police hated the day—massive traffic jams, overcrowded sidewalks, lots of shoplifters—all because downtown Philly stores were filled with shoppers taking advantage of the first holiday sales.
The negative name started to spread outside Philadelphia a few years later. In a 1975, Associated Press article, datelined Philadelphia, a sales manager at Gimbels was quoted as saying, “That’s why the bus drivers and cab drivers call today ‘Black Friday.’” At the time, she was watching a traffic cop trying to control a crowd of jaywalkers. “They think in terms of headaches it gives them,” she said.
It was only later that retailers, and other people who rely on Black Friday to make money, attempted to redefine the term as something positive. Nowadays, everybody goes bananas during this shopping extravaganza.
And now you know the rest of the story. Good Day and happy shopping.