LEX IN THE CITY: Friday phrases and praises

by Mellissa Martinez

Every year, I am perplexed by the Black Friday craze. I simply can’t fathom battling crowds and standing in hour-long lines for a bargain, but clearly I am in the minority when it comes to this sentiment. Although, as a kid, I don’t remember being familiar with the term—or the concept—Black Friday was well-established a decade before the 1970s.

‘Black’ has long been used in the Western world to describe days in which dramatically bad events occur. Typically, these have been specific stock market crashes or incidents of brutality. Before it got paired up with Thanksgiving, ‘Black Friday’ referred to the day that the price of gold collapsed in 1869, the stock market plummeted in 1873, British police attacked peacefully protesting suffragettes in 1910, and brushfires raged in Australia in 1939. There have also been black Tuesdays and Mondays marking calamitous events. 

The first published mention of ‘Black Friday’ with Thanksgiving came in 1951, from a magazine titled Factory Maintenance and Management. The editor used the term to refer to the day after Thanksgiving when many employees seemed to be mysteriously absent, leaving employers and fellow workers in a bind. At this point, the connotation was still clearly negative.

By most accounts, the expression as we now use it, was invented by the Philadelphia police department in 1961. The Friday after Thanksgiving was already a popular shopping day, as merchants were eager to mark the opening of Christmas season. Every year, crowds from the annual Army-Navy football game merged with frenzied shoppers, causing major problems. Knowing that they would be dealing with excessive traffic congestion, accidents and incidents related to the influx of people, the department sarcastically referred to the day as “Black Friday.”

There were some attempts by merchants (who clearly enjoyed the crowds) to change the popular phrase to ‘big Friday,’ but that didn’t stick. As is the case with many words, after decades, the connotation ameliorated and we no longer associate ‘Black Friday’ with calamity (unless, of course, you find yourself at a WalMart door early that morning). There have even been efforts to spruce up the origin of the expression with many internet sources suggesting that on this day merchants go from being in the red (debt) to being in the black (profitable).

Black is not the only adjective to be popularly coupled with Friday. The religious holiday, ‘Good Friday’ comes from the Middle English sense of ‘good’ as ‘holy or sacred.’ Nowadays, the expression ‘casual Friday’ is an office mainstay and ‘girl Friday,’ was a common 1940s expression meaning ‘resourceful young female assistant.’ This profession (as well as ‘man Friday’) comes from the character Friday in the 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe. 

Probably the most recent Friday pairing, ‘Flashback Friday,’ has emerged on social media platforms. Facebook users, bloggers and even marketers post nostalgia-inducing videos, pictures or songs and tag them with #FlashbackFriday. What’s the difference between Flashback Friday and Throwback Thursday? Not much, except for the obvious. In general, people write  #ThrowbackThursday or #TBT if posting an old photo on a Thursday and #FlashbackFriday or #FBF if posting on a Friday.

If you grew up in Claremont, your Flashback Fridays might include “Friday Frolic” at El Roble or a showing of “Freaky Friday” at the Montclair Plaza. Current residents probably enjoy Friday Nights Live in the Village. And, I suspect that some readers prefer Fridays in Claremont because they know that their favorite paper will arrive in the mailbox!


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