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BYCU: Special Edition


Black Wednesday

I'll confess a conceit: I think I became aware of Black Wednesday before anyone else. When I first started talking about it in the late 1980s, it was scarcely "a thing," in the sense that nobody looked at it as a cultural phenomenon as much as just an evening when a lot of people met at the bar.

Now, I'm sure my conceit is grossly arrogant. Bar owners undoubtedly were gleefully aware that Thanksgiving Eve was one of their biggest nights, and I'm sure alcohol distributors were aware of it as well. But nobody, as far as I know, had given it a name or identified it as a separate cause of celebration.

That has all changed. The evening now has its own Wikipedia entry. It's lame, but it's an entry:

Blackout Wednesday or "Drinksgiving" is the night before the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, which is always a Thursday. It is associated with binge drinking since very few people work on Thanksgiving, and most university students are home to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with their families. The name refers to "blacking out", memory loss due to excessive alcohol intoxication. In Chicago in particular, Blackout Wednesday is sometimes a more popular partying night than even New Year's Eve or Saint Patrick's Day. In some cities, it is the top drunk driving night of the year.

So why do I say it's lame? Lots of reasons:

1. I rarely see it referred to as "Blackout Wednesday." That phrase is a juvenile celebration of excess, plus it stretches the parallelism with "Black Friday" to the point of collapse. (I edited the Wikipedia page, incidentally, but I have no idea if my edit will survive until you're reading this.)

2. Black Wednesday is an evening of seeing people you don't see often enough and amplifying the enjoyment with lots of drink. It's a celebration. This article ends with a depressing neo-Prohibitionist message.

3. It uses the phrase "binge drinking," which long ago became a resident of that "huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves." George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language" (an essay that no wannabe writer should neglect). Does anyone know what "binge drinking" means anymore? I think I've seen it used to refer to downing three (3!) drinks in one sitting. Heck, if I don't control myself, I'll down three drinks in the duration of an average squatting.

4. It tells us that "Blackout Wednesday" "refers to 'blacking out,' memory loss due to excessive alcohol intoxication." A writer needs to excise useless explanations, and there's nothing more useless than an explanation that explains what everyone already understands. I'm surprised the entry didn't explain what a "Wednesday" is.

5. It strongly implies that, as a general rule, Black Wednesday is the third biggest drinking night of the year. Although no one knows for sure what night is the biggest drinking night, most people in my circle agree that it must be Black Wednesday. More and more news sources, citing interviews with bartenders, agree. Although I can never prove it, I would bet $10,000 and give odds that Black Wednesday is the biggest bar night of the year. I wouldn't be shocked if New Years Eve prompts more drinking in general, but much of that drinking is done at home or at private parties, whereas Black Wednesday is the quintessential bar night.

Oh well. I probably shouldn't be so hard on Wikipedia. It has now officially recognized Black Wednesday as an institution, thereby giving me just one more thing to be thankful for this time of year.