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Mike Sutton
Mike Sutton
Dr Mike Sutton is the author of 'Nullius in Verba: Darwin's greatest secret'.
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All The Black Market Origin Myths Are Now Busted!

Feb. 14, 2013 8:03 am

Postscript.Feb 2017: The Oxford English Dictionary has an earlier date for Black Market than the one I discovered: 1727 D. Defoe Compl. Eng. Tradesman (ed. 2) I. Suppl. ii. 21:

But the weaver wanting the money immediately..goes to another kind of market, and which I may say is a black market of thieves to him.

My discovery is relvant now to the term being applied for slave markets only.

The Phrase Is The Concept: Introducing Eleven Meanings and the Currently, and Newly, Attested Origin of the Black Market Idiom

In an earlier peer-to-paper on the importance of knowing the origins of phrases and concepts (Sutton 2013a) I wrote about why we should seek to ensure the veracity of what we write about. My simple argument in that article is that erroneous yet orthodox ‘knowledge’ claims regarding who said or wrote what first can prevent us from examining ‘undiscovered’ work of earlier pioneers. In support of the same theme today in this brief peer-to-peer blog article, I reveal how once again my own unique deployment of the the new and incredibly powerful research technique that I have named Internet Dating (see Sutton 2013b for an explanation) has been used to bust many myths that surround the origins of the phrase black market.

Firstly, what do the experts say about the origin and meaning of the phrase and idiom black market?

Chambers Dictionary of Etymology (Barnhart and Steinmetz 2012) simply has it that the phrase “black market” was first coined in 1931.

Unfortunately for scholars, “Chambers” is invariably in line with the dreadful practice of dictionaries of all kinds in that it provides us with no reference for this 1931 attested earliest date of origin of the phrase. One wonders if its editors even know where it comes from, because so common is the practice of the entire dictionary trade, along with those popular “who said it first/why do we say it” books to simply copy so called ‘attested’ findings from each other ad infinitum. My best bet to date for the source of Chamber’s claimed first use of the phrase black market is The World Economic Survey 1931/32 – 1942/44 (Bell et al 1946: p226), which uses the phrase on 12 different pages in relation to unofficial dealing in foodstuffs and other commodities outside of rationing, licensing and officially imposed price ceilings. However, this survey was – as the title reveals - actually published at least 11 years after 1931. In fact, it was published in 1946. Now, I may have this source of the currently orthodox 1931 origin of black market claim wrong, but if we are not given the sources of so called attested dates then we are reduced to this kind of unfortunate half-baked speculation. So what do the other definitive guides have to say about black markets?

Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (2012, p. 150) is limited to the following:

'Black market: The illegal buying and selling of goods or currencies, See also UNDER THE COUNTER.'

When we turn to page 1389 in “Brewers” it says a little more about this specific phrase "under the counter":

'A phrase first current in the Second World War in connection with the illegal practice in some shops. Articles in short supply were kept out of sight, under the counter, for sale to favoured customers often at inflated prices. Chief goods to ‘go under the counter’ are fully fashioned silk stockings, watches and silk handkerchiefs.’ For this information on ‘under the counter’.

Brewers does at least reference the Evening Standard Newspaper for 20th December 1945.

Miriam Webster’s online Dictionary, (as do seemingly countless other “respectable” sources) also has the unreferenced origin of the phrase black market as 1931: . Among the best selling in the why do we say that genre in the (new revised) Dictionary of idioms and their origins Flavell and Flavell (2006, p. 311) simply write that:

"Black has carried connotations of evil since the sixteenth century. This is reflected in such idioms as the black arts, black magic, a black hearted villain and the way we say something is as black as the devil or as black as hell. They all have overtones of dark purposes and wrong-doing.

Black is also associated with illegality. There is the black market and an ever increasing black economy whose transactions are never declared to the Inland revenue."

If you Google to seek the origin of the phrase you will find a host of unsubstantiated bullony about it deriving from knights in black armour. Other writers confidently assert that its origin lies simply in line with the tradition of labelling many bad things with the word black. And others argue that its origins are with the translation of German (scharz-markt), or else regarding German black sausage markets etc. Consider, for example the explanation confidently provided out by the number 1 bestseller March Hares and Monkeys' Uncles: Origins of the Words and Phrases We use Every Day (Oliver 2008 p. 185 - 186):

"Black market

We use this term to describe any illegal trade whereby goods and services are bought and sold at cheaper prices than legitimate outlet, and also to refer to currency-dealing where black market exchange rates differ from official ones. A popular explanation of its origin is that it initially referred to the sale of 'fire-damaged' goods (i.e. goods that were said to have been lost in a fire, but had actually been 'salvaged' or stolen), although there is not enough evidence to be sure of this. What can be confirmed is that the English phrase is a direct translation of the German Schwarzmarkt, and was adopted by soldiers during the First World War, It became a standard phrase during the Second World War and referred to not only the trade in stolen military supplies (clothing, blankets, food and The like) , but also the domestic buying and selling of rationed goods. After the war, it endured as a general term for illicit dealings.'

Inkle and Yarico: Is this opera the first published origin of the phrase black market?

As this blog article will now go on to prove, the origin of the phrase black market has nothing to do with fire damaged goods, German markets or the first world war. The furthest back that my internet dating method can take us to its earliest known origins is 1787 (Coleman 1787) where it is used as spoken dialogue the opera Inkle and Yarico. This discovery dates the origin of the phrase to an incredible 144 years earlier than the current official attested 1931 date. The original published text printed below the painting of Inkle and Yarico is the proof.


Mike Sutton (2013) Dysology.orgAttribution

Inkle and Yarico - the first known publication of the idiom black market

Please note, you can click on the image of the original text below if you have trouble reading it and it will enlarge :


Mike Sutton Dysolog.orgAttribution

The earlliest (to date - 2013) known origin of the phrase black market

Is the origin of the phrase black market the Atlantic slave trade?

We now know that the first known use - to date at least - of the phrase black market is in the 1787 opera, Inkle and Yarico, written by George Coleman.

In Coleman's opera a hero named Trudge (a white man) has a black wife whom he refuses to sell to a plantation owner in Barbados. Moreover, the term is used not simply to name the slave market black because it is where black people are bought and sold but also in a liberal condemnatory sense for being a social evil. Because as we can see from the actual published text presented above from Act 2, Scene 1, Trudge uses the phrase black market as a disparaging term for the slave trade and with it he morally condemns the plantation slave owner named simply as Planter.

That said, the subsequent appearance of the phrase in the literature (until the abolition of the Atlantic Slave trade) is frequently used simply to mean a market for black slaves

Moving on

Here is a brief outline of what I found as a result of my research, presented in date-order of when the phrases first appeared in the published literature ( please note that I do not supply all dates here on the basis that I’m not giving everything away for free before my work-in-progress e-book on myths and fallacies is published later this year. But I do supply the first and last dates with full Harvard style references to evidence the veracity of my research findings).

I have in my files what are now currently first known dates of publication for each of these 11 black market concepts. I include a small handful of such dates below. So, for example, 1945 is the earliest date that I can find where the phrase black markets is used to include markets for stolen goods:

(1) Black market used as a noun (sometimes, but rarely, disapprovingly) for a slave market where black people are sold. – first (to date) known use is by George Coleman (Coleman 1787) and frequently used in the same way thereafter until the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.

(2) As a modifier - a market for black things (dogs, pigs, horses etc. ) e.g. a. black market-plum, which is simply a plum that is black that is grown for sale at market.

(3) As a geographically significant name for a place such as a town named perhaps because it began as a market place associated with the colour black (such as a tribe who wore traditional black dress) such as Karas Bazar in Russia which translates to English as Black Market.

(4) As a historically significant name for a particular place where a market is held – e.g. on a hill where a disaster happened.

(5) A person who is black and sells goods at a market – e.g. black market-woman.

(6) A person who is a black servant whose main job is to buy goods at the market – black market-servant.

(7) Description for the wider economic market for something called black. – e.g. lamp-black market, carbon-black market, fire-black market.

(8) A market where goods or currency is traded in violation of government pricing controls (1931; 1932). Most usually above the legal ceiling rate.

(9) A market where ‘illicit’ and sometimes illegal (e.g. drugs) or services, but not stolen goods are traded – 1920 and 1935.

(10) Black markets being run as organised crime rackets – 1941.

(11) A market where stolen goods are traded (most usually for less than the retail rate) – Life magazine 1945.


Readers who are familiar with my criminology work will know that I am something of an expert in just one area of researching and cracking down on black markets. Namely stolen goods markets. If you Google Market Reduction Approach you'll see some of my publications. However, Internet dating black markets has taught me far more about the phrase and its origins than I could ever have known. And that is simply because nobody else has previously discovered the back-ground to the phrase and concepts of black market that I have revealed here. The reason for that is simply because the search engine technology that I am using to test orthodox knowledge claims of the provenience of words, phrases and concepts is very new.

So once again, we can see that the new research method of internet dating smashes orthodox knowledge claims, because contrary to currently accepted ‘knowledge’ the phrase black market was in fact coined 144 years earlier than previously attested.

When in a year or two’s time you next read any of what will then be newly published, and world renowned likes of the Oxford, Cambridge, Chambers or Brewers Dictionaries of Etymology or other popular guides to the origins of words and phrases, I very much doubt that the blighters getting paid to put those things together will reference me as the person who took our knowledge about the origins of the phrase black market back 144 years earlier than all their earlier editions claimed. Nor will they, I imagine, reference me as the originator of the 11-fold classification of black market concepts published for the first time in this article. So be it. Perhaps I’ll outdo them all with a fully referenced Sutton’s Guide to Internet Dating the Origins of Words, Phrases and Concepts.

A further note on the Life (1945) black market article

The Market versus the Security Hypotheses for Crime Causation

Someone once wrote that the most secure lock in the world is useless if it so cumbersome to use that people are obliged to leave the door ajar. A similar understanding led the US army to scrap the use of ignition keys for army jeeps after 1943 because soldiers were losing them in the combat zone. What most interests me is a case - among a number of other examples - in that 1945 Life magazine article that reports on the black market trade in jeep rotor arms, which sprung up to counter the crime reduction strategy adopted by drivers removing their jeep's rotor arms to prevent them being stolen when parked. However, the Life magazine article does not fully explain that this trade arose because the jeeps had no lockable doors and were started by the mere flipping of a switch.

Seemingly, it is the combination of the demand for stolen (or for 'borrowing') jeeps versus their physical relative vulnerability to theft that led to legitimate jeep drivers removing the vehicle's rotor arm when leaving their vehicles parked. This crime prevention tactic then led to the black market trade in Jeep rotor arms, which Life magazine reports on.

Filling in the gaps in the story, here is a neat account that I found published on a history website website (here) of what may prove to be the early 'evolutionary' stages of a jeep theft ‘arms race struggle’ in WWII:

‘Such was the jeep's popularity that theft was commonplace. "Borrowing" a jeep in a combat zone was perhaps the most frequent cause of enlisted men losing a stripe. Until 1943 the vehicle required a key to turn the ignition but lost keys proved to be too big of a problem, and a simple switch was installed. Anyone could jump in a jeep and flip the switch to start it. Savvy drivers often removed the distributor head while their jeeps were untended; enterprising thieves then started carrying distributor heads of their own.'

I’m not sure if the author of the above text is referring to the rotor arm, which sits atop the distributor and under the distributor cap. I doubt it because most usually the term distributor head means distributor cap. If this distributor cap variation of the story is veracious then presumably the ‘arms race’ between jeep drivers and thieves evolved to removing the entire distributor cap as part of the continuing security struggle once the use of black market rotor arms became a problem. If so, then crime prevention was becoming more difficult in the face of determined and prepared thieves. More difficult because a quick un-clipping of the distributor cap (spark plug leads staying attached) enables the rotor arm, which is smaller in size than very small pocket penknife, to be simply pulled off and easily refitted in seconds, but removing a far bulkier distributor cap from the vehicles (they are about the size of a large orange) would require the removal of all the spark plug leads as well – which then need to be carefully re- fitted by the driver in the requisite exact sequence before the engine would operate.

What is of criminological interest to me here is the role of the market (demand) for jeeps – either for joyriding or simply a one off borrowing for personal transport reasons - and the impact that had on both theft levels and on subsequent crime reduction efforts.

I should add that the popular so called crime as opportunity theory (ratortunity) cannot be a causal explanation for the theft of jeeps (or of anything else for that matter) since it has been thoroughly debunked as no more than a post hoc description of a successfully completed crime (e.g. here).

Whether there is a fuller market driven versus security hypothesis story to tell about jeep theft levels and the ensuing crime ‘arms race’ between offenders, legitimate jeep drivers and manufacturers is an area that may prove extremely promising in terms of helping us to understand how demand for any stolen goods influences offender perceptions of risk versus rewards, and the degree of planning necessary to commit their crimes successfully.

Next time on Best Thinking

In a series of forthcoming blog articles I’ll be examining the veracity of current orthodox knowledge claims about the origin of the words slavery and bootlegging and their first attested use in the English language.

Postscript 14th April 2013. At the time of writing, Wikipedia currently, erroneously, has it that the phrase '’black market’ was coined to define illicit markets as a conceptual counterpoint to white and grey markets. However, since Wikipedia is currently unethically engaged in deliberately and systematically plagiarizing the unique results of my original myth-busting work published solely here on Best Thinking, and then deliberately refusing to cite me as the originator of this brand new information that is busting decades old pervasive myths, we should expect Wikipedia editors to edit-out Wikipedia's daft mistake and yet pretend that Wikipedia's own editors discovered the new information,that was uniquely discovered by me and published solely in this article, in order to seek to improve Wikipedia's dreadful reputation for disseminating claptrap.You can see what they are up to here, and read my arguments for why this is a socially toxic practice. Boycott Wikipedia's toxic plagiarism!

* How to reference this article: Sutton. M. (2013). All The Black Market Origin Myths Are Now Busted: The Phrase Is The Concept: Introducing Eleven Meanings and the Currently, and Newly, Attested Origin of the Black Market Idiom. Criminology: The Blog of Mike Sutton. Best Thinking .com. Feb 14.

I'm on Twitter here - follw me, if you will, for breaking news of my mythbusting orthodox knowledge claims.


Bell, J. Condliffe, J. and Meade, E. (1946 )World economic survey: first -eleventh year, 1931/32-1942/44: League of Nations, Economic, Financial, and Transit Department. League of Nations,

Coleman, G. (1787) Inkle and Yarico.. In: A Society of Gentleman (eds) Critical Review: or Annals of Literature. Vol. 64. London. Hamilton

Barnhart and Steinmetz (2012) Chambers Dictionary of Etymology: the origins and development of over 30,000 words (19th Edition). London. Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd.

Flavell, R. and Flavell, L (2006) Dictionary of idioms and their origins. London. Kyle Cathie Ltd.

Life. (1945) March 26. pp. 25 -29.

Oliver, H. (2008) March Hares and Monkeys' Uncles: Origins of the Words and Phrases We use Every Day. London. Metro Publishing

Sutton, M (2013a) The British Moral Panic Creation Myth is Bust. The Blog of Mike Sutton. Best

Sutton, M. (2013b) Twenty First Century Knowledge Flux: The Impact of Internet Dating as a Research Technique to Determine the Veracity of Knowledge Claims Regarding the Provenance of Words, Phrases and Concepts. Criminology: The Blog of Mike Sutton. Best


Hamilton Hardy
September 28, 2015 at 9:51 pm
This website is awesome!!
I agree, Wikipedia should pay for what they did. This is the best website ever!!!
Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
September 30, 2015 at 2:29 am
Many thanks for the positive feedback Hamilton. It's Much appreciated.
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