LET’S PARLER FRANGLAIS – THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE PIQUE-NIQUE
The late great Miles Kington, a British humourist and columnist, declared that “The trouble with French is that there are far too few English words in it”, and went on to write his column (and a series of books) called ‘Let’s Parler Franglais’ to put this situation right. Conversely, the British speak a lot of French without even realizing it. There are hundreds of words in daily use in the UK that originated in France, and picnic is one of them.
How the original word ‘pique-nique’ came about is unclear. That unimpeachable source, the Oxford English Dictionary, declares that the word ‘picnic’ is: Origin C18 from Fr. Pique-nique of unknown origin. The contemporary source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, has quite a bit more to say on this subject, declaring that the word can be traced back as far as the 1692 edition of something called ‘Origines de la Langue Française’, where the word pique-nique is mentioned as being ‘of recent origin’. At that time it described a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine, and the word continued to be associated with meals to which everyone contributed something. Wikipedia goes on to state that the word picnic first appeared in English in a 1748 letter from the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, who probably encountered the idea when he went on his Grand Tour of the Continent.
An outdoor meal as a social event was pretty much confined to the wealthy at first. The queen of Victorian household management, Mrs. Beeton, provides directions on how to prepare a picnic for 40 people that make for pretty daunting reading, unless you happen to have a large number of household staff.
Today you can still celebrate the great outdoors with elaborate picnics complete with classic wicker hampers with all the accoutrements, but for most people they are much simpler affairs, echoing the original French concept of a meal to which all contribute: arranging to meet up with friends, everyone bringing a cool bag filled with easily transportable delights, enjoying the warm sunshine in a park or on the river or in a local beauty spot, or when attending a summer sporting event or outdoor concert.
The Great British Summer doesn’t get any better than this, so why not honour the French heritage of the word, parler Franglais un peu and emmener un PAUL pique-nique avec vous? It’s freshly made and delicious, you don’t need an army of household servants to prepare it, en effet you can simply order it online and declare “Vive la vie en plein air!”