A Brief History of Picnic: How Did the Term ‘Picnic’ Start?

| December 12, 2011

The word ‘picnic’ started as a French word, which was first used during the 17th century. Believe it or not, it was not even close to being an American in any way. According Origines de la Langue Françoise de Ménage, 1962 edition, ’picnic’ came from the word ‘piquenique’. French people invented the word by joining the verb ‘piquer’ which means to peck or to pick and a nonsense syllable to fit the verb ‘piquer’.

The word picnic was first used outside the French context took place in 1748; however, it was around 1800 before the word ‘piquenique’ made its way through the English language and even during that time, it didn’t occur in England but rather in England.

The term ‘picnic’ originally described the contribution of each guest for the meal as all people invited to social gatherings with the picnic style were expected to turn up to the gathering with a dish to add to the feast. Different picnic terms were then used, such as ‘picnic society’. All these terms were used to describe social gatherings and events where everybody was expected to contribute to the event’s success.

Over time, the usage of the word shifted to one that emphasizes an alfresco element that had evolved into a concept of what such gatherings and events were supposed to be. Today, people think of picnic as casual meal shared in pastoral settings and not as a repast contributed to by all individuals attending the event. By the 19th century, the term ‘picnic’ had made a big linguistic shift in its meaning. Today, picnic is defined as a pleasurable excursion wherein a meal is shared outdoors, taking place in a wonderful landscape like parks and is usually done in summer.

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