Black Friday refers to the Friday following Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November. Though not a national holiday, Black Friday is known as one of the busiest shopping days of year and considered the commencement of the Christmas shopping season. The day is a testament to American consumer society, notorious for major discounts and price-slashing, drawing shoppers to line up in front of stores and malls hours before they open. The infamously raucous and vicious nature of Black Friday shoppers was mocked in Season 17 of South Park. Devoting three consecutive episodes1 to the topic in the fall of 2013, Trey Parker likened consumers’ fervor and brand loyalty to the factions in the HBO series Game of Thrones.
UBIQ’s choice of the South Philadelphia Wal-Mart is no coincidence. Coined in an article about worker absenteeism in 1951, the term Black Friday came to refer specifically to the shopping rush and heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic in Philadelphia. In an email to the American Dialect Society, Bonnie Taylor-Blake cited a 1961 article that stated:
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.
Philadelphia cops, who were required to work 12-hour Black Friday shifts, picked up the term and popularized it. Ben Zimmer, language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, reported that Philadelphia merchants disliked the title and tried to enforce the more positive term, Big Friday, in an attempt to encourage consumerism. But the darker term persisted and spread. Zimmer noted that shops and advertisers, somewhat successfully, rebranded the title by introducing campaigns using black to refer to retail profits, and referenced the Back to Black campaign of the 1980s.
- “Black Friday,” “A Song of Ass and Fire,” and “Titties and Dragons,” South Park, Season 17, Nov 2013.
- “Friday after Thanksgiving,” from “M.J. Murphy’s Tips to Good Human Relations for Factory Executives,” Factory Management and Maintenance 109:11, Nov 1951 (p.137), cited by Bonnie Taylor-Blake in email to American Dialect Society, 4 Aug 2009.
- Ben Zimmer, The Origins of Black Friday, 25 Nov 2011.