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Saturday, November 29, 2008


Intrigued by the rush of adverts. for "Black Friday" which have crammed the online US new papers the last couple of days, I wondered why the term was used. I have always believed that Black Friday fell on the 13th day of the month. My mother used to warn me to beware of accidents and mishaps on that day, and I wore clean underwear in case I had to go to hospital. She didn't suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia (obsessive fear of the number thirteen), thank God, or I would not have been allowed out at all.

Friday has been considered unlucky since time (written time, that is) began. Chaucer mentioned it in The Canterbury Tales. Seamen refused to sail from port on a Friday, and their captains agreed with them, though the owners of the ships might have griped. Thirteen is equally unlucky, so the combination is particularly dire.

And "black" is the color of mourning. Friday, September 24, 1869, was certainly a day for mourning on Wall Street. A bunch of hotshot financiers tried to corner the gold market, and their abject failure led to a total collapse of the stock market, followed by a depression. The Panic of 1873 also began on a Friday, but apparently it was the 1869 debacle that added the word "black" to the economic lexicon of misfortune. From there, it was just a step to "Black Friday 13."

So why all these ads. for "Black Friday," when it isn't even Friday-the-thirteenth this week, Friday's date being November 28? And why advertise something that is supposed to be unlucky?

Apparently, in the shopping lexicon, Black Friday is the shopping day after Turkey Day. Everyone who is currently employed is off work, there are no games on TV, so everyone goes out shopping. BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR, the adverts. blare. It's a lucky day for the owners of the stores, because that their account books finally get into the black, and an unlucky day for the staff behind the counters, because those hungover crowds are grumpy. And, according to the entry for "Black Friday" on it isn't really the biggest shopping day, as people go to see the bargains before they start thinking about Christmas.

Happy Window Shopping.

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