The first usage of the word is traced to the 1692 edition of Origines de la Langue Française de Ménage—which mentions 'pique-nique' as being of recent origin; it marks the first appearance of the word in print. The term was used to describe a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine. For long a picnic retained the connotation of a meal to which everyone contributed something. Whether picnic is actually based on the verb piquer which means 'pick' or 'peck' with the rhyming nique meaning "thing of little importance" is doubted; the Oxford English Dictionary says it is of unknown provenance.
The word picnic first appeared in English texts in 1748 (OED), and may have entered the English language from this French word or from the German Picknick, which may simply be a parallel borrowing from French. The practice of an elegant meal eaten out-of-doors, rather than a harvester worker's dinner in the harvest field, was connected with respite from hunting from the Middle Ages; the excuse for the pleasurable outing of 1723 in Lemoyne's painting (illustration, left) is still offered in the context of a hunt.