On Black Friday, did anybody really know what time it was?

Forgive me for avoiding the post-Thanksgiving shopping bacchanalia.

I don’t like crowds, and I certainly don’t like battling demon-eyed hordes for the right to save $50 on an Olympus-size television and $3.95 on set of 300-thread-count sheets for Barbie’s bedroom.

If you think I’m kidding about the demon-eyed hordes, take a look at this video (by way of, appropriately enough, Mashable) from a Walmart in Texas.


Adding to this year’s bedlam, retailers couldn’t seem to agree when their sales should begin.

Take Walmart.

It advertised an electronics sale for 12 a.m. Friday.

Or Best Buy, which promised to open its doors at 12:00 a.m. Friday. (Even more nonsensically, it urged people to “Gift Apple This Holiday,” but that will have to wait for another day.)

Walmart, in another page of its ad, said its sale would start Friday at 12:01 a.m.

Target, among other stores, said its doors would open at midnight on Thanksgiving.

Those last two references were both clear and logical. The other references weren’t.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology offers an excellent explanation of the 12 a.m., 12 p.m. confusion, saying that

“a.m.” and “p.m.” are abbreviations for “ante meridiem” and “post meridiem.” They mean “before noon” and “after noon,” respectively. Of course, noon is neither before nor after noon; it is simply noon. Therefore, neither the “a.m.” nor “p.m.” designation is correct. On the other hand, midnight is both 12 hours before noon and 12 hours after noon. Therefore, either 12 a.m. or 12 p.m. could work as a designation for midnight, but both would be ambiguous

The institute says that “midnight” can mean either the start or the end of a day. The AP Stylebook offers no equivocation on that. It says that midnight is the end of the day.

Walmart and Best Buy used “12 a.m.” as the start of the day. Target and Hastings, on the other hand, used “midnight” as the end of the day.

I suppose that means you could have shopped all day Friday and not known whether the day was beginning or ending.

All of this time-bending bewilderment does offer some lessons.

First, avoid “12 a.m.” and “12 p.m.” Use “midnight” and “noon.” Those terms rarely cause confusion. If you want to avoid middle-of-the-night confusion, say “12:01 a.m.” or “11:59 p.m.”

Second, beware of the demon-eyed hordes on Black Friday.

And third, Chicago had it right all those years ago. Nobody really knows what time it is.



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