Friday, November 25, 2011

A Simple, Desultory Philippic About Black Friday



We're stuck with "Black Friday," I suppose, but it's kind of a ridiculous monicker. It's said to refer to black (as opposed to red) ink, as in that allegedly being the day when retailers' balance sheets finally edge into positive territory for the year. I've long doubted that, and Kevin Drum and Ben Zimmer do a great job of telling the real story. What looks like a sardonic term is, in fact, a sardonic term.

I'm all for sardonic, but now stores are using the term with a straight face to celebrate their sales.

There is something to be said about embracing a derogatory term to take away its power. But this isn't an example of that. It's an example of stupidity. That same stupidity, the inability to distinguish between fact and commentary, between names and descriptions, has given us frontage roads named Frontage Road and base models of car lines named the Base.

Look:

A punk rocker who calls himself a punk rocker is a joke, a poser. Play punk rock and people will call you a punk rocker.

Label humor or satire "humor" or "satire" and you've killed the joke. Present humor or satire and people will laugh.

Build a frontage road and people will say, "Hey, look, there's a frontage road."

Offer a cheap car that isn't the XLT Landau Brougham Super Sport and people will talk about the base model.

And if you put crap on sale the day after Thanksgiving, people will know what you're doing.

1 comment:

Robert Hadley said...

I see no problem with stores using an instantly identifiable term to promote their sales. I'm frankly surprised this usage would raise the hackles of a language student such as yourself. You've no doubt seen how words change as they pass into common parlance. I would much rather have someone protest the growing use of hyphenated adverb-verb compounds, such as "badly-punctuated sentence." I'm starting to see constructions like that all the time.