Claim: The word 'picnic' originated with crowds gathering to witness lynchings.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1999]
Although not taught in American learning institutions and literature, it is noted in most Black history professional circles and literature that the origin of the term "picnic" derives from the acts of lynching African-Americans. The word "picnic" is rooted from the whole theme of "Pick A Nigger." This is where individuals would "pic" a Black person to lynch and make this into a family gathering. There would be music and a "picnic." ("Nic" being the white acronym for "nigger.") Scenes of this were depicted in the movie "Rosewood."
We should choose to use the word "barbecue" or "outing" instead of the word "picnic."
Please forward this e-mail to all of your family and friends and let's educate our people.
Origins: Specious etymologies seem to be all the rage of late, and this dubious claim about 'picnic' fits that trend. You'll be heartened to know 'picnic' has nothing to do with crowds gathering to witness the lynching of blacks (or anyone else, for that matter) in America.
'Picnic' began life as a 17th-century French word: it wasn't even close to being an American invention. A 1692 edition of Origines de la Langue Françoise de Ménage
The first documented appearance of the term outside the French language occurred in 1748, but picnic was rarely used in English prior to 1800 or thereabouts. Even then, the word still wasn't being used in America (but rather in England) and referred to a fashionable pot-luck social affair that was not necessarily held out-of-doors.
Originally, the term described the element of individual contribution each guest was supposed to make towards the repast, as everyone who had been invited to social events styled as "picnics" was expected to turn up bearing a dish to add to the common feast. This element was picked up in other 'picnic' terms, such as 'picnic society,' which described gatherings of the intelligentsia where everyone was expected to perform or in some other way contribute to the success of the evening.
Over time, the meaning of the word shifted to emphasize an alfresco element that had crept into the evolving concept of what such gatherings were supposed to be. Nowadays one thinks of a picnic as a casual meal partaken in a pastoral setting, not as a repast enjoyed either indoors or outdoors and which was contributed to by everybody. Modern picnics can be provisioned by only one cook, and no one would think anything of it; what matters now is the food be eaten outdoors.
By the 19th century, 'picnic' had successfully made this linguistic shift in meaning. Its history (and that of every other word in the English language) is documented in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and nowhere in its lengthy OED entry is mention made of executions or lynchings or blacks.
The fact that this etymology is spurious hasn't deterred some from being offended by it, as noted in this excerpt from a 2000 National Post article:
Last updated: 15 August 2015