Intermediate+ Word of the Day: picket

picket (noun, verb) /ˈpɪkɪt/ LISTEN

A picket line of junior doctors from strikes in England

A picket is a post stuck into the ground that is used to hold up a fence or to pitch a tent. In military terminology, a picket is a soldier or small group of soldiers placed in one position to warn other soldiers about an enemy advance. When a strike happens, a picket is a person or group standing outside the building or store that’s on strike and persuades other workers to join the strike and not to go to work. Any other person or group engaged in a similar demonstration is also called a picket. To picket means ‘to enclose with pickets,’ as in a fence, and ‘to put pickets around a building during a strike.’

Example sentences

  • Tim began building the fence by driving the pickets into the ground.
  • There were pickets posted at various points around the camp.
  • There was a picket outside the factory during the strike.
  • When evidence emerged that the company was using child labor, people formed a picket outside its head office.
  • Charlie's plot of land is picketed, though he hasn't yet started to farm it.
  • The workers are picketing the store.

In pop culture

One of the best known cases of industrial action in the UK was the long-running coal miners’ strike of 1984-85. The miners were striking to try to prevent the mines from being closed by the government. There were many pickets, including flying pickets, which is a technique used against companies with a lot of different premises, where groups of picketers can be organized at short notice and transported to any of the company’s locations. Ultimately, the strike failed and the government closed many mines, creating large-scale unemployment in many areas where coal mining had been the main industry. You can see images from the strike in this video, accompanied by Billy Bragg’s song “Never Cross a Picket Line”:

Did you know?

Today is International Workers’ Day, a day when demonstrations and marches are held in many countries across the world to celebrate the working classes and the ongoing struggle for better working conditions. The date was chosen both to coincide with May Day, which was already an important spring celebration in many countries, and to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago, which was a workers’ demonstration that took place on May 4, 1868, as part of a campaign for the working day to be reduced to eight hours. The demonstration ended in violence when someone threw a bomb at the police, who responded by shooting at the demonstrators, killing four of them. Many workers’ demonstrations still take place around the world on May 1, and it is a public holiday in many countries.

Other forms

picketer (noun)


Picket dates back to the late 17th century. The noun comes from the French piquet, meaning ‘a pointed stake,’ which comes from the French verb piquer (to pierce). It is related to the English noun pike (a pointed weapon), which came into English in the early 16th century from the same French noun. It can be traced back to the Old French pic (sharp point or spike), but linguists are unsure whether it originated in a Germanic word or in the Vulgar Latin piccare (to prick), from the Latin picus, ‘woodpecker.’ The military sense, ‘a soldier or troop posted to watch for the enemy,’ is from the mid-18th century, while its use in strikes is from the mid-19th century. The verb comes from the noun. The meaning ‘to surround with pickets’ dates back to the mid-18th century. Its meaning related to strikes dates back to the mid-19th century. Picket line, in the military sense, has been used since the mid-19th century. It has been used in relation to strikes since the 1940s.

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