General Question

Rememberme's avatar

Is a picnic politically incorrect?

Asked by Rememberme (661points) May 13th, 2009

I was at a function when a group of black kids made an argument that having the schedule say “Picnic lunch” was somehow offensive and politically incorrect.

I didnt quite understand their argument. Something about antebellum times and picanillys. could something clear this up?

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17 Answers

MindErrantry's avatar

Definitely not. Picnic is now a standard English term, and most people don’t know anything about its etymology, whatever that might be. It just means lunch outside. could be offensive to those who are allergic to the sun, or grass, I suppose

cak's avatar

I think they mean the word pickaninny, not picanilly. I could be wrong; however, I think they missed the mark on this one. Also, it’s another fine example of PC gone way too far. I hate PC! Here’s a link (wiki) to pickaninny

Also, my spelling is probably wrong, you’ll see other spelling referenced.

amoreno06's avatar

more importantly…is the term “black kids” politically incorrect?
small joke

justwannaknow's avatar

Do not call them “african American, That could be me. I was born in south africa and moved to the good old USA when I was yound. Became a citizen and I am now a Real ” African American”.

ru2bz46's avatar

Similar to the word “niggardly” being misinterpreted as a racial slur. I remember the “Wilmington, North Carolina incident” in 2002, referenced here, in which a teacher was made to go to sensitivity training after using the word.

MindErrantry's avatar

And just to make things clear, there is no relation between picnic and pickaninny or picanilly—there are no racial connotations behind this word, at least etymologically speaking.

skfinkel's avatar

I love picnics—and so do most everyone of all backgrounds. Except for the bugs that get into your food.

MissAusten's avatar

They were making the argument out of ignorance. One of them probably heard (incorrectly) that the word “picnic” originated from something derogatory.

This passage (from here ) sums up the history of the word picnic best:
“The word ‘picnic’ is first seen in Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son in 1748. At the time it referred to a fashionable social gathering in which each participant contributed a share of the provisions. The word was borrowed from the French word ‘picquenique (1692) which is of uncertain origin. Etymologist Robert Barnhart speculates that it could have come from a rhyming reduplication of the French word ‘piquer’ meaning to pick, or peck. or perhaps is a compound of the French ‘piquer to pick + nique a worthless thing.”

As you can see, the word picnic is pretty old.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@ru2bz46 Care to enlighten me?

ru2bz46's avatar

It means “miserly”, or “cheap”. It in no way shares etymology with ni____, which is derived from the word for “black”

MindErrantry's avatar

I think the word “niggardly” is a very interesting instance—because even though anyone who connects it with anything racist is technically wrong, it’s beginning to get a weird sort of link just from the similiarities in sound. Now, even if picnic did have a racially-derived etymology, the fact that no one (or, apparently, almost no one) ever thinks of any connotations for it indicates that it would be a perfectly acceptable word for normal use (as it usually is). I guess the point at issue which I see here is how much are we allowed to correct people for words which seem to be drawing on racist ideologies? If they offend people, doesn’t that make them… well, offensive? Obviously a controversial issue, as with the teacher @ru2bz46 mentioned. I would maybe prefer that people go look up etymologies before making decisions, of course—learning for all! And ‘niggardly’ is, in my estimate, a very neat word (not that I use it much, but I do know it). Returning to the word ‘picnic’, I guess my answer would have to be that since it doesn’t offend most people who could be offended by it- this being the first instance I’ve ever heard of- the people who protested should definitely turn to a dictionary.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to say all this. Just a PC issue which maybe ought to be dealt with somewhere. I dunno. Thank you for your indulgence

RedPowerLady's avatar

@ru2bz46 Thanx. That is interesting, I’ve never heard the word before.

Blindian's avatar

We must not succumb to historical narcissism, the belief that your limited version of history, is universally known, and correct. That which is considered to be shameful will be hidden from general use, often in plain sight. Terms like Scot Free, (To murder a Scot’s person thus freeing them), Dutch Courage (To be drunk), Indian Giving (To grant and take away something of value from one of the Original People,) Highland Clearances (Ethnic Cleansing of the Irish and Scots people by the English)
The context that the children were using the word as “politically incorrect” was an uglier usage than you are willing to admit, to be sure in the tradition of Scot free, and the Highland Clearances.
The word picnic like many words borrowed from other languages and brought into English, may have different meanings to different people. The children in the original story were probably told the same cautionary tale, many African-American children were told. Particularly if they were raised by people who were subject to what can only be called Christian terrorism, also known as the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan often hid in plain sight, was composed of prominent wealthy well educated citizens and law enforcement, thus enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes, which continue into the present day. Picnic in this context is a code word for lynching. as in Pick a Nig, to lynch.
Generally this cautionary tale is not told outside of African-American contexts like all the things I refer to as Black Urban legends.
An urban legend is a story that pops up and is told as if it is true. An elderly woman washes her poodle and places it in the microwave to dry. The poodle explodes, She dies from the shock.
There are often many variations of this and other urban legends. They sound like they could happen, but there are usually several elements in them that require suspension of disbelief.
The difference and the distinction I wish to make with black urban legends is that unlike generic urban legends many black urban legends did in fact take place as historical facts.
So like their generic urban legend cousins they are cautionary tales which mix real events with the fear that they actually could occur.
The real problem with black urban legends, is not that they are not true, but white people refuse to believe them.

Picnic food in the generic sense consists of barbecue, and foods consisting of wild game which could include all kinds of things not necessarily found in your supermarket.
Lynching was not simply hanging. It was mutilation, and torture while the victim was alive.
While some victims had allegedly committed crimes, most had not.
This is a website of lynching photography, where the photo’s had been made into postcards and sent through the mail.
This site shows white on white lynching as well, for example European immigrants who were lynched by “Red Blooded Americans”, Red Blooded being a Ku Klux Klan term for a “pure-bred” White Anglo Saxon Protestant, the type of membership they particularly prized.
As the withoutsanctuary site attests frequent references to picnic fare are used. In the lynching depicted in the opening graphics, that of Jesse Washington, Mr. Washington’s lynching in 1916 Texas. So its easy to see why among black people Picnic is a code word for lynching, whereas the dictionary would not note that usage.
Black Urban Legend word…Picnic: Pick a nig, Pick a nigger (to lynch) a play on the word pickaninny, from pequeno nino’s: little children…slaver name for Africans.

picnic n.
1. A meal eaten outdoors, as on an excursion. Slang. An easy task or pleasant experience. (Fr. piquenique, prob. redup. of piquer to pick)
pickaninny n., pl. pickaninnies. Offensive. Used as a disparaging term for a young Black child. [Possibly from Spanish pequeno, small + nino, child or Portuguese pequenino, diminutive of pequeno, small.]
– American Heritage Dictionary

Jesse Washington was a mentally retarded seventeen-year-old boy. On May 8, 1916, Lucy Fryer, a white woman, was murdered in Robinson, seven miles from Waco. Washington, a laborer on her farm, confessed to the murder. in a brief trial on May15, the prosecution had only to present a murder weapon and Washington’s confession.
A reasonable person with a reasonable doubt might ask as to motive: why would a mentally retarded teenager kill his employer? A reasonable person might ask how was the confession obtained? As in legally? Did Washington actually do the murder? In any case the jury deliberated for four minutes, and the guilty verdict was read to shouts of, “Get that Nigger!” The boy was beaten and dragged to the suspension bridge spanning the Brazos River. Thousands roared, “Burn him!” Bonfire preparations were already under way in the public square, where Washington was beaten with shovels and bricks. Fifteen thousand men, women, and children packed the square. They climbed up poles and onto the tops of cars, hung from windows, and sat on each other’s shoulders. Children were lifted by their parents into the air.
Washington was castrated, and his ears were cut off. A tree supported the iron chain that lifted him above the fire of boxes and sticks. Wailing, the boy attempted to climb the skillet-hot chain. For this the men cut off his fingers. The executioners repeatedly lowered the boy into the flames and hoisted him out again. With each repetition, a mighty shout was raised.
Lynchers often paraded their victim down the main street, through black neighborhoods, and in front of “colored schools” that were in session.
The sender of this card, Joe Meyers, an oiler at the Bellmead car department and a Waco resident, marked his photo with a cross (now an ink smudge to left of victim).
This card bears the advertising stamp, “katy electric studio temple texas. h. lippe prop.” inscribed in brown ink: “This is the Barbecue we had last night my picture is to the left with a cross over it your son Joe.”
Repeated references to eating are found in lynching-related correspondence, such as “coon cooking,” “barbecue,” and “main fare.”
“This is the Barbecue we had last night my picture is to the left with a cross over it your son Joe.”
Joe would still be considered a normal, well adjusted, sane human being by today’s standards.
If Washington had been found innocent, and still treated in this manner, no jury would have convicted Joe.
This is the African American Experience, to be aware that you have to carry the burden and responsibility of terrible and wonderful secret knowledge.
And like Cassandra, to not be believed in either case.
Picnic is one code word for lynching, generic enough to pass for an innocuous word if lynching is not part of your heritage.

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