Today is "Cyber Monday," the day that retailers have anointed as the kickoff of the online holiday shopping season. "Cyber Monday" is a recent coinage, going back to a 2005 press release. "Black Friday," on which "Cyber Monday" is modeled, goes back to the early 1960s, and some newly discovered evidence illuminates its early use.
In a 2012 Word Routes column, Ben Zimmer explained how the advent of "Black Friday" led to the branding of "Cyber Monday" and other days in the Holy Week of shopping:
Retailers, not content with branding products, have lately taken to branding days of the week, as a way to hype the holiday shopping rush. "Black Friday," the name for the day after Thanskgiving, was transformed from a negative to a positive by some clever etymological mythologizing (make that etymythologizing). Then the Monday after Thanksgiving was christened "Cyber Monday," and now some marketers would like to extend that to a "Cyber Week."
If you don't know the true story behind "Black Friday," check out my Word Routes column and my interview on WBUR's "Here & Now." What started out as a pejorative term from Philadelphia traffic cops was successfully rebranded via a false etymology claiming that "Black Friday" was the day that retailers turned a profit on the year, going "in the black." With Black Friday recognized as a day to get the jump on the shopping season, retail marketers have set their sights on other days of the week.
In 2005, the online retail association Shop.org coined "Cyber Monday" for the Monday after Thanksgiving, in a conscious effort to pump up enthusiasm for e-commerce. [...] Last year, comScore reported that Cyber Monday had indeed become the biggest online shopping day of the year, and it also extended the concept to a post-Thanksgiving "Cyber Week." This year, Walmart wants us to shop for online deals for the entirety of "Cyber Week," which began on Saturday (the day after Black Friday — also known as "Small Business Saturday," in an initiative begun by American Express two years ago).
Meanwhile, it looks like the Philadelphia traffic cops of the early '60s have some company. Word sleuth Barry Popik has just uncovered evidence that police in Rochester, N.Y. were calling the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" at the same time. As Ben Zimmer reported on the American Dialect Society mailing list, Popik found the following article in the Dec. 1, 1961 issue of the Shortsville-Manchester Enterprise:
The earliest evidence for "Black Friday" in Philadelphia is also from 1961, so now we know that back then it was at least a two-city phenomenon.
But did the expression extend beyond Rochester and Philadelphia in those early days? Bonnie Taylor-Blake, the researcher who found the early examples from Philadelphia, also came across this peculiar 1959 advertisement for a used-car dealer in the Daily Republican of Monangahela, Pa.:
While this morbid ad did run on the day after Thanksgiving that year, it's unclear if it has anything to do with the later traffic-related examples from Philly and Rochester. The hunt continues!
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