Cabbage Night? Devil's Eye? The evening of October 30th has long been a time for pranks across the U.S., but as this map prepared by the Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes reveals, the name for these nighttime "festivities" varies considerably depending on local traditions and dialects.
An article in Live Science notes:
Before the 20th century, Halloween mischief in the United States and Canada happened on Oct. 31 and consisted of tipping over outhouses, unhinging farmer's gates, throwing eggs at houses and the like. By the 1920s and 30s, however, the celebrations had become more like a rowdy block party, and the acts of vandalism more serious, probably instigated by tensions over the Great Depression and the threat of war, historians say.
To stem the vandalism, concerned parents and town leaders tried to ply kids with candy, encouraging the forgotten tradition of trick-or-treating in costume in exchange for sweets, bumping the mischief element from the celebrations of Oct. 31 altogether. It was then that the troublemakers, neighborhood by neighborhood, adopted Oct. 30 as their day to pull pranks.
The custom of vandalism on Oct. 30, oddly, seems to have only developed sporadically, often appearing in some areas but not at all in others nearby.
Nowadays, Mischief Night is especially popular in pockets where Irish and Scottish immigration was common — in northeastern United States but not in the South and West, for example, and in the English-speaking communities of Canada but not the French.
These days, 74% of Americans surveyed have no name for this annual night of egged cars and TPed houses. But many in east Michigan still call it Devil's Night, while parts of New Jersey and New York are still beholden to Mischief Night and Cabbage Night. Washington State is the largest linguistic refuge for Devil's Eye.
Unfortunately, the Cambridge survey doesn't have data on previous years, but a similar study was conducted by the Harvard University Linguistics Department a decade ago. That survey includes some other specific names, including Gate Night, when farmers' gates were opened to let livestock roam free. Overall, the statistics from 2003 (below) compared with those today suggest that names for this night of vandalism are slowly disappearing.
For whatever it's worth, it was called Cabbage Night where I grew up. The name stems from an old Scottish tradition when, on All Hallow's Eve, young women would attempt various fortune-telling techniques to identify their future spouses — including bobbing for apples and pulling up cabbages from gardens to examine their stalks, to see if their husbands would be lean or plump. When they were done with the cabbages, they hurled them at their neighbor's homes, and thus a tradition of projectile vegetables was born.