Friday, August 16, 2013

PICNIC!

Picnic.
What a funny word, I thought; where on earth did it come from?
          Apparently, from the French piquer – to stab, to poke, to spear with a sword.

A “picnic” used to be a meal shared by many people, all of whom brought something for the common pot – what we, today, call a “pot-luck.” Everybody brought something, and everybody took a little of whatever pleased them, apparently by stabbing things off platters with their swords; we progressed to serving ourselves with cutlery by 1800.

This photograph, taken in the early 1900s in East Boothbay, Maine, shows a group of adults perched on the rocks enjoying a summer picnic on the shores of Linekin Bay – their boxes and baskets of food are all piled in the middle. The man in front peeling an egg (white shirt, light pants) is my grandfather, his younger brother Allen is in the back (dark shirt, white tie, drinking from a glass); the woman on the far right is Jessie Gould Collins, one their cousins. Others are unknown friends and neighbors.
          I just love this photo: young adults – in their teens and early 20s – staging a picnic on the rocks on a lovely summer day. I can’t imagine clambering over the shoreline in a long skirt and broad-brimmed straw hat; and just think of Allen wearing a necktie to an event like this!

I thought “picnic” was a relatively new term: I was wrong!
My third great-grandfather, John Allen Gould of Walpole, Massachusetts (1785-1856) wrote about a picnic in his diary:

July 4, 1843 – The anniversary of American Independence was this year celibrated in Walpole in Pic-Nic stile. I composed some poetry for the occation which was sung in the grove to the tune of Auld-Lang-Syne.
         
The poetry, also in the diary, was absolutely dreadful; it included the chorus “ye sons of freemen swell the song, Ye daughters join the lay; Let hill and dale with joy resound, On Independence Day,” etc.)
          Oh, well...he was a Major in the Militia; he had the right to be sappy. 

I question, though, what he meant by having “...daughters join the lay.”


I’m sure it didn’t mean what it means today...

37 comments:

  1. Thank you for this history lesson. I enjoy learning about the derivation of words, but I must admit I did not have a clue where the word "picnic" came from - and now I know!

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    1. I didn't either, so it was fun to find out about this. I love John Allen Gould's spelling of Pic-Nic, don't you?

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  2. Yeah, no tank tops and cut-off jeans for those folks. Picnic dress in the early 1900s would pass for formalwear today!

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    1. Yeah, but the guys got to wear those silly looking white hats!

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  3. Thanks for the origin of the word picnic... and I had no idea the word was so old!

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    1. I had no idea either. It wasn't in my 1770 dictionary, but I guess it came along pretty soon thereafter.

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  4. I always thought of the French version "Le picnic" as a corruption of the English, so I'm surprised, but happy, to be corrected that the reverse is true.

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    1. There are some oddball (and unverified) rumors about the word, Brett -- derivation is a tricky business. Found one suggestion that it was from the German, but couldn't pin that down...the French one seems to be the one that's taken hold.

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  5. A lot of words used back then does not have the meaning that they have now. When you read stories or poems about how everyone was "gay", it meant they were having a swell time. You certainly would not have said "I am having trouble with my "mouse", people would have thought you "queer" which has a different meaning nowadays too, and the list goes on....

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    1. And it's fun, too, Rosie -- to find new words that have entirely different meanings now. Old dictionaries are favorites of mine -- I have one that does not have the word "spaceship" in it, for example -- and I can find old meanings frequently.

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  6. It's great to see that picnics are such a 'global' thing - I have just scanned photos from my mum's father's album and there are heaps of well dressed groups sitting on rocks around picnics in the early 1900s - half way around the world from yours

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    1. It's these common bonds, Jackie, that hold the world together -- it seems that it doesn't matter where or when, people gathering to share meals outdoors is a universal thread. Interesting!

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  7. A fine photograph. As for the poem, the chorus is now going around and around in my head, I am not going to be able to free myself from it for ages.

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    1. You and me both, Alan! I've been humming the darn thing for a couple of days now. This ancestor wrote lots of "poetry," most of it set to Auld Lang Syne (was it the only song he knew, I wonder?). Oddball guy...

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  8. Well, I love the "sappiness" of those old poems. I was brought up by my father on such poems - 'GUNGA DIN', 'IF', CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, 'FOVE LUMEN', CLIFTON CHAPEL' and they still stir me. I hope they ever do so.

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    1. I'm familiar with the first three, Liz...the others I'll have to look up. I think I wouldn't be bothered with John Allen Gould's sappiness here except that he was ALWAYS sappy; granted, sometimes with good reason!

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  9. Interesting spelling of "Pic-Nic."

    I looked up the definition of "lay" and found this one I had never seen before:
    "A short lyric or narrative poem that is sung."

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    1. That's fabulous! See? We Sepians just keep digging, don't we? I just looked up "lay" in my 1770 dictionary. Found 54 definitions (numbered, no less) for the verb form; found a few nouns, but not yours...so it must have popped up after that, yes?

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  10. In this case I think lay is short for roundelay ie he is asking the daughters to join in the chorus.

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    1. Of course! Thank you so much for that -- my trusty 1770 has "roundelay," and it makes absolute sense. I love learning things from other Sepians; it's one of the highlights that makes this Sepia Saturday experience so very valuable....

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  11. I really enjoyed this. I admired the handwriting and photo, am always happy to to learn something new (meaning of picnic) and you also made me laugh with "daughters join the lay".

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    1. I know: his handwriting is just exquisite. He was a mover and shaker in Walpole, MA and held many public offices -- wrote deeds and wills, was executor for many estates, etc. He also had a wicked sense of humor, which gave me permission to be slightly risque with the "lay" business.

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  12. You are so right about that word, and if I were put to the test of defining it, one might think in the English language that it could be picking nick-nacks right!

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    1. Now there's a new twist on picnic! You must be another word lover; we're easy to find in a group!

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  13. I immediately related 'lay' to a song; but now you have me wondering about a lay preacher. Language is continuously evolving - I just hope it doesn't degenerate into text speak. What annoys me is that there are more and more words that it is now not PC to use - thank goodness picnic isn't one of them.

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    1. My guess, Bob, is that a lay preacher is one who is not ordained. And I'm on board with you about this politically correct-ness stuff -- it's gone overboard, for sure!

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  14. The picnic on the rocks reminded me of one of our picnics on the rocks -- quickly dispersed back to the canoes by the angry rattles of rattlesnakes. Loved the serenity of the picnic on the beach rocks --- very nice.

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    1. RATTLESNAKES! (Yes, I'm yelling here...) Holy Smokes, Joan; where was this, anyway? Certainly not on the rocky coast of Maine...

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  15. Wonderful post! And I need to comment on the spelling of "pic-nic." I collect old postcards, the majority of which are used. As a writer, I always find it fascinating to discover how ordinary people used language in everyday life. It isn't uncommon to find words spelled phonetically or have oddly placed hyphens in words. Like pic-nic. I had only seen it one time on the back of a used postcard (which I did not purchase) and thought it rather strange -- until now. Makes me wonder about the evolution of the word.
    Thanks for giving me some food for thought!

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    1. Hi, Patty -- nice of you to stop by! I, too, do postcards, and have seen some pretty interesting usages (to-morrow, for example). One of my favorites is "haint," as in, "I hain't had lunch yet." Very common in New England...Anyway, John Allen Gould used hyphens a lot...

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  16. Oh my yes, I have poems like these written by ancestors. It was of its time and now just feels so sappy. And I'm with you, what exactly does the word "lay" refer to. I did a google search hoping to find something, perhaps a colloquial saying of its time, but came up with Lay's potato chips. I'm just guessing, and I know it's a stretch, but I don't think potatoes had anything to do with it.

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    1. See comment above from boundforoz: it's from "roundelay," a musical term. So he wasn't just being somewhat sly; he was actually shortening a real word to have it fit in...I have to admit, though, that the thought of it referring to Lay's potato chips is pretty funny!

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  17. Can't even imagine dressing like that for a picnic today. They all look like they are having fun and I'm glad you found the meaning to 'lay". (what a smart bunch :)

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  18. I know -- aren't Sepians wonderful? I'm always learning things from this talented, creative group! Thanks for visiting!

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  19. What treasures to have Deb. Such a lovely photo and to be able to imagine them singing the poem to Auld Lang Syne is special even if the poetry was dreadful. Great sleuthing by the Sepians but I too was freaked out by Joan's rattlesnakes.

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  20. What treasures to have Deb. Such a lovely photo and to be able to imagine them singing the poem to Auld Lang Syne is special even if the poetry was dreadful. Great sleuthing by the Sepians but I too was freaked out by Joan's rattlesnakes.

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  21. It may mean just that...
    ;)~
    HUGZ

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