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Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday

Today is Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the US. The day after American Thanksgiving (as we Canadians call it) has been called this since the early 1960s, so dubbed by Philadelphia police officers dismayed at the congestion in downtown Philadelphia brought about by shoppers rushing to get the deals. The name, and the custom of deep discounting and early opening hours, gradually spread to other cities, and has also recently established itself in Canada.
But the word "black" itself is intriguing. As you might expect, the early Anglo-Saxon word for this colour (or absence of colour" is similar to the modern German word, which is schwarz. For the Anglo-Saxons, black things were "swart", a word that still survives in "swarthy". But fairly early on, another word started to compete with "swart". The Anglo-Saxon word blac seems to be related to the word for "ink" or a black metallic alloy in other Germanic languages.
Obviously "black" won out.  Somehow, "Swarthy Friday", doesn't sound quite right!

2 comments:

  1. I heard that it is called "black" Friday because of the expected sales which gets the stores out of the black for the year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is one explanation but the generally accepted one is the one I have given.

      Delete

About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.