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What's Black about Black Friday, Anyway? Why is it Called Black Friday?


Question: What's Black about Black Friday, Anyway? Why is it Called Black Friday?

In a place as racially diverse as Brooklyn, New York, people might well wonder why the mega-sales shopping day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, is called "Black Friday?"

Answer: It's a good question: Why is Black Friday called Black Friday?

After all, Black Friday is one of the few days, perhaps the only one, in the unofficial calendar of American culture that's associated with a color.

Just think about it: with parades and fireworks, July 4th, New Year's, and even Columbus Day and Thanksgiving are certainly colorful American holidays. But in name, they are also color-less. Conceivably one might have a Red-White-and-Blue Veteran's Day, but in reality it doesn't exist.

On the other hand, we do have "Black History Month." And the prominence and popularity of that February celebration and educational opportunity is probably the reason that one might, sensibly, wonder, (especially in multi-cultural Brooklyn):

What's so black about Black Friday?


It's About Ink Color

So here's the answer: Ink.


The name, "Black Friday," has nothing to do with race and class, sociology or demography. The etymology of the phrase is related, instead, to a very modest footnote in the history of the practice of ... bookkeeping.

In the pre-Quicken, pre-computer era of bookkeeping, standard practice was to use two colors of ink in a handwritten ledger: black and red. Being "in the red" referred to the red ink that historically was used to indicate a loss, or negative income, or being in debt. Being "in the black" referred to the black ink that historically was used to indicate that the business had at least covered costs, or that it had earned a profit.

Time marches on and technology changes: Black Friday as a term was coined way before the Internet. But today, it's in competition of sorts with another oddly named holiday, Cyber Monday.

When is Cyber Monday?

A Trade Term that Caught the Public Imagination

For many retailers, the year-end holiday shopping season can make or break their fiscal year.

And so, to ensure that they do make a profit and get a share of consumers' disposable income, for many years now, retailers have lured customers to spend earlier and earlier — as much as a month before the Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa festivities.

"Black Friday" is the first nation-wide sales event of the December holiday season. It regularly falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when people tend to be at home with their families.

Black Friday has become the big shopping day nationwide that, retailers hope, will encourage consumers to spend enough money to tip them into the "black" or profitable zone for the year.

The term "Black Friday" started as an insider lingo among retailers. And it is now used in the general US population. Virtually every city in America, every mall, and many online retailers promote "Black Friday" sales.

Why Black Friday (A Good Thing for Consumers) Might Be Confused With Stock Market Crashes (A Bad Thing for Consumers)

The name "Black Friday" does have a disturbing linguistic proximity to three crises in the US stock market:
  • "Black Thursday," a day that refers to the disastrous stock market crash of 1929-1932
  • "Black Monday" of 1987
  • and the "black week" in October 2008, when the mortgage crisis began to unravel.


Two Final Notes

Ironically, of course, businesses in the US don't use ink anymore to keep track of profit and loss. The days of the red ink pen and the black ink pen are long gone. Nonetheless, electronic accounting programs continue this color-coding convention, using black to indicate profit and red to indicate loss.


Whatever one's political persuasion, one hopes that the day after Thanksgiving will be Black Friday indeed, and not a Red Friday whatsoever.


Practical Shopping Tips for Black Friday:

Black Friday versus Cyber Monday:

10 Pros & Cons of Shopping on Black Friday & Cyber Monday


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