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Fact check: The word picnic does not originate from racist lynchings

Images circulating on social media make the claim that the word “picnic” originates from the racist, extrajudicial killings of African Americans. This claim is false.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Text in the post states that the word picnic was used to “describe festive events attended by racist whites.” It adds that at these meetings, Black men released from jail would be “caught by mobs of white men who would lynch or burn them alive in front of cheering crowds.” The post alleges the word picnic itself stems from the “N-word”.

Examples of the claim are visible here , here and here .

According to Dr David Pilgrim, author of several books on the history and cultural symbols of the Jim Crow era, the word picnic derives from the 17th century French word “pique-nique,” a term used to describe a social gathering in which attendees each contributed with a portion of food or another useful item ( here ).

Pilgrim writes that a 1692 edition of Origines de la Langue Francoise de Menage includes the word pique-nique. Since the derivate word, picnic, did not appear in the English language until around 1800, this suggests it did not originate in the U.S.

However, the settings in which the lynching of Black people occurred in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries could have been appropriately described as picnic-like  ( here ).

Historians have documented that killings by white mobs frequently became public spectacles ( here ). A project by the Equal Justice Initiative entitled “Lynching in America” notes that during the late 1800s and early 1900s, “white men, women, and children present watched the horrific murders while enjoying deviled eggs, lemonade, and whiskey in a picnic-like atmosphere.” ( here )

The word picnic does not originate from these brutal killings, but there is sufficient evidence to corroborate that these often occurred in gatherings that could be referred to as picnics.

VERDICT

False. The word picnic does not originate from the lynchings of African Americans.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here

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