UNC researcher debunks ‘Black Friday’ origin

“Beginning in the nineteen-thirties, fans thronged Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium for the Army-Navy football game…. The game was frequently held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and just as visiting fans were showing up the day before, holiday shoppers also would descend on downtown…. The cops nicknamed the day of gridlock Black Friday, and soon others started to do the same….

“Retailers worried the phrase would scare people away…..  A few decades later, when the term came to describe a day when retailers’ ledgers shifted ‘into the black’ for the year — a connotation also pushed by marketers — people assumed that had always been the connotation.

“That idea never made sense to Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an amateur etymologist. ‘Since when was “Black Friday” ever used in a positive manner?’ she wrote in an e-mail. She searched for the earliest uses of the phrase, finally landing on [the Philadelphia]  reference, a discovery Taylor-Blake reported to the listserv of the American Dialect Society….

“Puncturing the myths surrounding Christmas, even cynically manufactured ones, can make a person feel like the Grinch, but Taylor-Blake hasn’t suffered. ‘I’m fortunate that family, friends, and co-workers I’ve shared this story with are, like me, skeptical at heart,’ she said. She doesn’t care much for shopping; on Black Friday, she plans to stay home.”

— From “”Everything You Know about Black Friday is Wrong” by Amy Merrick in the New Yorker (Nov. 28)