Why is Black Friday called Black Friday?

It is thought that the mega-shopping day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday because shops go from being in the red (having a net loss) to in the black (having profits). However, that’s not the origin of the term. Linguist Ben Zimmer explains in this Visual Thesaurus article that the name is not directly related to shopping, but rather a much disliked side effect of the frenzy: traffic. In the 1960s, police officers in Philadelphia started calling the Friday after Thanksgiving Black Friday because they so dreaded the traffic jams and related problems the shopping caused.

The name stuck. But local merchants reasonably didn’t like the negative connotation given to one of their most prosperous days, so they pushed to rename the day Big Friday. Unfortunately for them, their efforts were in vain, and we’re left with Black Friday.

Using the color black in a negative connotation is hardly new. Ancient Greeks considered it to be the color of the underworld. Romans used it as the color to identify mourning. As language progressed, the color has been used with seemingly harmless words to alter their meaning in a negative way.

Consider these terms:

black sheep: a disfavored or disreputable member of a group

black list: a list of persons who are disapproved of or are to be punished or boycotted

black humor: humor marked by the use of usually morbid, ironic, grotesquely comic episodes

black market: trading activity in violation of public regulations

blackmail: extortion of money or anything of value by threats

(definitions from Merriam-Webster)

Can you think of any others? Let me know in the comments section.

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