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In contemporary usage, picnic can be defined simply as a pleasure excursion at which a meal is eaten outdoors, ideally, taking place in a beautiful landscape.

Formerly, picnic meant a potluck, an entertainment at which each person contributed some dish to a common table for all to share. The first usage of the word was traced to a 16th century French text, describing a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine. The word picnic is based on the verb piquer which means 'pick' or 'peck' with the rhyming nique meaning "thing of little importance".

The 1692 edition of Origines de la Langue Françoise de Ménage, which mentions 'piquenique' as being of recent origin, marks the first appearance of the word in print. The word picnic first appeared in English texts in the mid-1700s, and may have entered the English language from this French word or from the German Picknick.


  • While in British and American English one would say "driving in rush hour traffic is no picnic", an Australian or New Zealander would say "driving in rush hour traffic is a real picnic"; these reversed idioms both suggesting a difficult task.

  • In the late 1990s an e-mail hoax spread around the internet claiming that the word "picnic" was actually derived from racist term for a lynching. This claim had no basis in fact.

  • In established parks, a picnic area generally includes picnic tables and possibly other items related to eating outdoors, such as built-in grills, water faucets, garbage containers, and restrooms.


  • Picnicking is usually not allowed in amusement parks, etc, because it could damage the sales of restaurants, snack bars, and food kiosks in the park.

  • "Picnicking" in the wider sense of eating brought-along food, may or may not be allowed in public transport.

Related historical events

After the French Revolution in 1789, royal parks became open to the public for the first time. Picnicking in the parks became a popular activity amongst the newly enfranchised citizens.

Early in the 19th century, a fashionable group of Londoners formed the 'Picnic Society'. Members met in the Pantheon on Oxford Street. Each member was expected to provide a share of the entertainment and of the refreshments with no one particular host. Interest in the society waned in the 1850s as the founders died.

The image of picnics as a peaceful social activity can be utilized for political protest too. In this context, a picnic functions as a temporary occupation of significant public territory. A famous example of this is the Paneuropean Picnic held on both sides of the Hungarian / Austrian border on the August 19, 1989 as part of the struggle towards German reunification.

In the year 2000, a 600-mile-long picnic took place from coast to coast in France to celebrate the first Bastille Day of the new Millennium. In the United States, likewise, the 4th of July celebration of American independence is a popular day for a picnic. In Italy the favorite picnic day is 'Angel's Monday', also known as Pasquetta (= 'little easter'), the day after Easter.

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