• picnic •
pik-nik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A reposeful repast in the open air, an outdoor meal. 2. Something that is easy and pleasant to do.
Notes: We need to keep in mind that today's Good Word changes shape when suffixes are attached. It may be used as a verb but English suffixes beginning on a vowel cannot be directly attached to a final C; we must always buffer that letter with a K: picnics but picnicked, picnicking and picknicker. Picnickers are those who engage in picnickery. Picnickery also refers to the various items and utensils used on a picnic.
In Play: The problem with picnics is that they are held outside in places that must be shared with other species: "When Frank Furter's hotdog unexpectedly shot out of its bun and disappeared into the hole in the tree trunk, a swarm of bees flew out and ruined the family picnic." Still, most people think of picnics as extremely pleasurable, accounting for its second meaning above: "Coming up with a strong marketing campaign for powdered water is not going to be a picnic, Gerald."
Word History: Today's happy little word was absorbed from French pique-nique and then subjected to spelling simplification. The original meaning was a meal to which all participants contribute equally. In English, however, it took on the meaning of an outdoor meal. The French word came from the verb piquer "to stick, jab, puncture", which apparently meant "to pick" at one time, as in piquer dans le plat "pick (things) out of the dish". The nique is a rhyme element that makes pique-nique a rhyming compound. Nothing more is known about it, though it has spread across Europe with the English meaning: German Picknick, Swedish picknick, Greek and Russian piknik, and others all share it. (We are so grateful to Jackie Strauss for suggesting today's word that we hope her whole life is a picnic.)
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