The ongoing national dialog about racism led to some interesting conversations. But when it comes to the word picnic, it’s led to bogus information.
Several posts on social media claimed recently the word picnic is a racist term and should be dropped from our language.
Even worse, the posts attempt to connect the word to a racial slur I won’t repeat here.
Politifact reported a South Florida politician did not want the word used to describe an annual gathering of city employees. He claimed the word had racist origins relating to the hanging of African Americans.
The claims, however, don’t quite pass the smell test.
The word picnic came into English around 1800 from French, Snopes.com tells us:
A 1692 edition of Origines de la Langue Françoise de Ménage mentions ‘piquenique’ as being of recent origin and marks the first appearance of the word in print.
Reuters interviewed the author of several books on the history and cultural symbols of the Jim Crow era. He said “pique-nique” described “a social gathering” with attendees contributing a portion of food or another useful item.
The confusion seems to come from the fact that some lynchings involved gatherings of whites in a “picnic-like” atmosphere.
It’s definitely an unpleasant notion. But the Jim Crow Era and everything to do with lynching is an unpleasant part of our history. It should never have happened.
Still, you can’t deny one important point.
No matter what we might see when look back at horrible pictures of those events, the word picnic did not originate there.
It didn’t come into our language with those events.
There’s no changing that.
The events themselves should offend everyone. If they don’t offend you, you should ask yourself why that’s the case.
But we should also be clear about how our language did and didn’t evolve.