This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Word To Use Today: picnic.

Here in England, spring is sprung.

It's time to take off some of our woollies and head out into the countryside to enjoy...well, picnics are probably a couple of months away, but they've been in my mind since I saw this sentence, below, in a national newspaper:

 [This recipe is for] a traditional picnic pie - perfect served with thick, creamy custard.

Custard? At a picnic? And there was I in my ignorance I thinking that a picnic involved people travelling from home to sit on waterproof blankets and fight flies for food.


Painting by Thomas Cole. (Yes, even in those days someone often brought along a guitar.)

I can just about accept that a picnic might involve a knife and fork, but it really can't involve serving-jugs (see flies, above). A picnic might involve a vacuum flask of hot tea as a preservative against hypothermia (this is England, after all) but custard? 

Quite apart from the getting-the-stuff-to-the-picnic-while-still-hot problem, custard is famed worldwide for its affinity for shirt-fronts and laps - and that's when people are sitting comfortably at tables. When balanced on the side of a hill among sheep-droppings then disaster is quite simply inevitable.

Not only that, but the residual stickiness will be an unfortunate invitation to wasps.

Now, there must be some explanation for this insane custard-on-a-picnic idea. Perhaps there's some other meaning of the word picnic with which I am not familiar.

And, as it happens, there is. Not only that, but opposite ends of the earth have come up with opposite meanings (wouldn't it be fun if all words worked like this?) In England, if something is no picnic then it's difficult or disagreeable.

In Australia, however, a picnic is a troublesome situation or experience.

And, you know what? Now I know that, the whole custard-on-a-picnic thing suddenly makes absolutely perfect sense.

Word To Use Today: picnic. This word comes from the French piquenique. It might be something to do with piquer to peck and nique a thing of little importance. 

But probably not.

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