|The Picnic by George Goodwin Kilburne|
Well, I was all set to write another post on Guam, which turns out to be a much bigger subject than I thought, when I fell over this word. I was doing a little Spanish review on Duolingo when I came across a question where you were supposed to translate the English word picnic into Spanish. Turns out the Spanish word for picnic is, uh, pícnic. Yes, there's an accent mark over the first i, but otherwise, it's the same. Obviously a loan word. Okay, so where does it come from in the first place?
Turns out, I'd fallen into a bit of a stink hole. Not that there's anything wrong with the word "picnic". It's just that it turns out a lot of people find it suspect.
First things first. It seems to have come from the French word piquenique. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it's first seen in print in English in Chesterfield's "Letters" in 1748. The French sense, which became the English sense had initially nothing to do with eating outdoors, but meant something more like what we would now call a potluck. Oh, I forgot--a fashionable potluck. The origin of piquenique is a bit unclear, but pique may have meant "to pick or peck", while nique may have meant some "worthless thing", and come from the German. In any case, you get the drift.
But imagine my surprise when my first search led me directly to a Snopes report. Huh? Well, it turns out that a rumor has spread that "picnic" derives from a connection with American lynchings. World Wide Words delineates a spurious etymology which I can't repeat here, but basically people believed it because there are historical pictures of people taking picnics to lynchings. So, though the etymology is false, the association isn't.
Just because it's a false etymology doesn't mean that it contains no grain of truth.
|The 1893 public lynching of black teenager Henry Smith in Paris, Texas|