Etymology: Picnic

Apart from thermoses of Progresso Chicken Noodle and stacks of Pad Thai in bending foil containers, scarfed in intervals during summer swim meets, picnics were not a regular occurrence in my household. We ate too fast, for one thing; for another, the schedules of four/sometimes six/sometimes seven kids didn’t leave much time for lolling about on blanks, whacking away hunks of brie.

As an adult, I like a picnic — who doesn’t? We’ve had a spate of them on Central Park’s Great Lawn recently, nice, sprawling affairs that go from noon to dusk, when the need for more beer chases us out. The food isn’t really the point at these picnics — last time I brought a pretty diesel greek salad; kumatos and limpid Bulgarian feta and kalamatas and no iceberg never gross, and it was maybe 1/5 eaten when it was time to pack up.

Greek salad, for all its citrusy texture melds and ability to hold up for hours in the sun, is not particularly easy to eat, which goes against the word picnic’s original definition. Our English picnic comes from the French pique-nique: pique from the verb picquer, “to pick,” and nique meaning “small thing.” (You can see more evidence of nique in knickknack.) Originally, a pique-nique was the French version of a potluck; by the mid-19th century, it acquired its outdoor aspect, though the potluck principle of BYO generally holds true.

Definition here, etymology here.

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