α. ME conyn, ME conyne, ME cunin, ME konyn, ME konyne, 15 cunnin; Sc. pre-17 17– kinnen, 18– kyunnen (Shetland), 19– kionnen (Shetland), 19– kjunin (Shetland), 19– kjunnin (Shetland), 19– kunnin (Orkney), 19– kyoneen (Shetland), 19– kyonin (Shetland).
β. ME coninges (plural), ME connyng, ME connynges (plural), ME conyng, ME conynge, ME cunyng, ME kinyng, ME konyng, ME kuning, 15 cunninges (plural); Sc. pre-17 coning, pre-17 conyng, pre-17 cunning, pre-17 cunnyng, pre-17 cunyng, pre-17 cwyning, pre-17 cwynyng, pre-17 kynning, pre-17 18 cuning, 17–18 kinning; N.E.D. (1891) also records a form ME conninge.
γ. ME conig, ME connygez (plural), ME cunig.
δ. ME conees (plural), ME cones (plural), ME (in a late copy) conies (plural), ME kuynys (plural), ME–16 coni- (in compounds), ME–16 conye, ME– coney, ME– cony, 15 coneye, 15 connes (plural), 15 counnies (plural), 15 cunni- (in compounds), 15 cunnies (plural), 15 konys (plural), 15–16 conie, 15–16 connie, 15–16 connye, 15–16 cunney, 15–16 cunnie, 15–16 18 conny, 15–17 conney, 15–18 (19– Irish English (north.)) cunny, 16 conni- (in compounds), 16 cunie, 17 cooney, 17 cunne- (in compounds), 18– connies (Sc., plural).
Origin: Of multiple origins. A borrowing from French. Etymons: French conin; French coni.
Etymology: Partly (i) < Anglo-Norman and Old French conin, Old French, Middle French connin, Middle French counin (French connin) rabbit (12th cent.; also in Anglo-Norman as conynge, coning, coninge, couning), alteration (with suffix substitution: compare -in-inesuffix1) of Anglo-Norman conel, cunil, Anglo-Norman and Old French conil, connil (see below);
partly (ii) < Anglo-Norman coni, conie, conig, analogical singular of cunis, coniz, conys, plural (see below);
and partly (iii) directly < Anglo-Norman coniz, conys, Anglo-Norman and Old French cunis, Old French connis (12th cent.; compare Old French conilz), plural of Anglo-Norman conel, cunil, Anglo-Norman and Old French conil, Old French connil (Middle French, French connil) rabbit (12th cent.) < classical Latin cunīculus rabbit (also burrow, underground passage, military mine), in post-classical Latin frequently denoting the skin or fur of a rabbit (from 12th cent. in British sources); according to ancient authors (e.g. Pliny) a word of Spanish origin; the ending may show -culus-culussuffix.
Compare post-classical Latin coninus, cuninus (from 12th cent. in British sources), coningus, cunningus (from 13th cent. in British sources).
Although there is archaeological evidence to suggest that rabbits existed in Britain before the last ice age and that some attempt may have been made to reintroduce them in the Roman period, the rabbit appears to have been unknown to the Anglo-Saxons, and only successfully re-established in Norman times: it has no native name in Celtic or Germanic (Welsh cwning (collective plural) (14th cent.) is from Middle English; Irish coinnín and Scottish Gaelic coinean are from Middle English or Anglo-Norman). Documentary sources indicate that rabbits were farmed on islands off the mainland of England in the 12th cent. and on the mainland from the early 13th cent.; it is notable that the word coneyn.1 occurs in English earlier with reference to the fur (perhaps imported) than to the animal.
Potentially anachronistic attestation in Anglo-Saxon charter bounds.
It has been suggested that the word appears as the first element of the toponym conigraue (second element: groven.) in the Anglo-Saxon bounds of Marksbury, Somerset, as recorded in a mid 14th-cent. copy of a charter of 936:
Bounds (Sawyer 431) in S. E. Kelly Charters of Glastonbury Abbey
On radanforde, þanen endlang brokes on conigraue est and northward, þanen on ryȝte to wedergraue suthward.
This potentially anachronistic early attestation of coneyn.1 has been taken as evidence either that the boundary clause is post-Conquest in origin or that the original survey has been updated or revised. (It is noteworthy that the brook mentioned in close proximity to conigraue is now known as Conygre Brook, the first element of which is clearly a form of cunnigarn. ‘rabbit warren’.) It has alternatively been suggested that the bounds may after all be pre-Conquest, but that the manuscript form may result from a post-Conquest scribal error (perhaps influenced by the later name of the brook) for *comgraue ( < coombn.2 + groven.; compare Comegrave, Staffordshire (1086; now Congreve)), an interpretation which is apparently supported by the local topography. See further S. E. Kelly Charters of Glastonbury Abbey (2012) 357–8.
Parallels in the Romance languages.
With Old French conil, etc., compare Old Occitan conilh (1200), conil (1268), Catalan conill (14th cent.), Spanish conejo (1263 or earlier), Portuguese coelho (1102 as †conelio), Italian coniglio (1353).
Forms in the Germanic languages.
Old French conin was also borrowed into other Germanic languages; compare Middle Dutch conin, conijn (1240, Dutch konijn), Middle Low German konīn, kanīn, early modern German kanein, kanin (mid 15th cent.; compare German Kaninchen, diminutive). Compare also Old High German cōnol (12th cent.; < Old French conil).
Development of individual senses.
In sense 5 ultimately rendering Hebrew šāpān rock hyrax.
The historical pronunciation is with
, as indicated by the early spellings in -u-; from the 16th to the 18th cent., δ. forms of the word are regularly rhymed in verse with honeyn. and moneyn. (compare e.g. ?1548 and a1637 at sense 3, 1661 at sense 9, etc., and the common spelling coney; see further forms and discussion at cunnyn.). The usual current pronunciation with long ō (
) seems to have become established during the course of the 19th cent., and may in part be a spelling pronunciation reflecting the rarity of the word in general use in standard English at this date, when it may have been most familiar to many from use in the Bible (and especially in the Psalms) as the name of a foreign animal (sense 5). However, this pronunciation is likely to have been reinforced by the desire to avoid association with cuntn. and related words (compare cunnyn.), especially in a religious context. While Walker (1791, at cony) records only the pronunciation with
, Smart (1836) asserts that, although the word is ‘familiarly pronounced’ in this way, the pronunciation with ō is the ‘regular pronunciation..proper for solemn reading’.
a. The skin or fur of the rabbit; a rabbit skin.Repopularized as a term of the fur trade in the late 19th cent.; rare (hist. or regional) in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
365 in R. Morris Old Eng. Homilies
2nd Ser. 231 (MED),
Ne sal þar ben foh, ne grai, ne cunin [a1225 Egerton kuning, ?c1250 Egerton cunig, a1300 Jesus Oxf. konyng], ne ermine.
c1436 Domesday Ipswich
(BL Add. 25011)
in T. Twiss Monumenta Juridica
Eche c. of lambrys skynnys, bogee, conyns, foxis, cattyn, and of alle other maner skynnes passyng out of the lond.
a. As hunted, bred, sold, or prepared for food. Also as a mass noun.
[In quot. c1325 a punning allusion to Peter Conyng, the name in English of Pieter de Coninck (c1225–1333; with the surname compare Middle Dutch coninckingn.), Flemish weaver and leader of a popular rebellion against French rule of Flanders; compare branch III.]
c1325 in R. H. Robbins Hist. Poems 14th & 15th Cent.
We shule flo þe Conyng & make roste is loyne; Þe word shal springen of him in to coloyne.
in Trans. Philol. Soc.
21*Deym deyme et conyz, Buk doo and conye.
a1375 William of Palerne
Whanne he went hom..he com him-self y-charged wiþ conyng & hares.
Forme of Cury 27 in C. B. Hieatt & S. Butler Curye on Inglysch
Take connynges and smyte hem on pecys.
1765 ‘M. A. Porny’Elem. Heraldry v. 111
The relation of some Creatures, Figures, &c. to particular names, has been likewise a very fruitful source for variety of Arms; thus the family of Coningsby bears three Coneys.
1869 J. E. CussansHandbk. Heraldry
A Hare or Rabbit (heraldically termed Coney).
1875 Relquary July 50
A hawk, with wings expanded proper, belled or, preying upon a coney argent.
1931 Bull. Mus. Fine Arts
He usually marked his plate with one of two stamps—his initials, I C, with a cony below in a shield punch or [etc.].
2005 Derby Evening Tel.
3 Nov. 20
One of the tombs displays a shield of arms, the quarterings of which include that unforgettable ‘canting’ coat of the Hopwells or Hopwell: ‘three conies playing on bagpipes’.
6. Any of various smaller mammals of the New World; esp. the guinea pig ( Cavia porcellus), the agouti (genus Dasyprocta), and (in recent use) the American pika ( Ochotona princeps). Freq. with distinguishing word.
1555 R. Eden tr. Peter Martyr of Angleria Decades of Newe Worldeiii. viii. f. 134v,
In the citie of Dominica..connies [L. cuniculos], (whiche they caule Vtias beynge no bygger then myse).
1710 Brit. Apollo III. No. 70. 2/1
A Guinea Pig..in Johnston's Natural History goes by the Name of a Spanish Coney.
1796 J. G. StedmanNarr. Exped. Surinam II. xxii. 153
The long-nosed Cavy..or Indian Coney. In Surinam..there is still another species of the Agouti, called the Indian Rat-Coney, on account of its having a long tail.
1898 Outing Jan. 361/2
The jubilant warble of bright-winged birds, the chipper and startled rush of shy Indian conies.
1946 National Geographic Mag. July 65/2
This gives way to treeless savannas and boulder-strewn mountain summits where the shrill-voiced conies, or pikas..live.
1572 T. WilsonDisc. Vsurye f. 100v,
The poore gentleman is caught in the Cony clapper.
1672 T. ManleyClerks Guideii. 354
And at the end, &c. to leave the Berry and Coney-clappers sufficiently covered with thorn, and also the same ground and Berry of Conies sufficiently replenished and stored with Conies, Covenants for enjoying, &c.
1761 J. MordantCompl. Steward II. 293
And also at the end or sooner determination of this demise, leave the berry and coney-clappers sufficiently covered with thorn, furz, heath, or such other cover as the said ground or warren naturally, or is prone by nature and quality to produce.
† coney yardn.
[probably attested earlier as a field name; compare Conyngyerd', Halton, Cheshire (1487; 1507 as Conygarth, 1650 as Cony-Greene Close; now lost)]
Obs. (hist. in later use) a rabbit warren.
1532 in Rec. Soc. Lincoln's Inn
I. i. 233
None of the Companye shall bere hys bow bent withyn the Cony yard, nor hunt nor kyll any Conys, apon payn of xld.
1539–40 Bks. Court Augmentations in J. Gairdner & R. H. Brodie Lett. & Papers Reign Henry VIII
Robt. Southwell,..with the coney-yard and the right of fishing and hawking in Bermondsey and Rederyghe marshes.
1663 in Cal. State Papers, Domest. Ser., Charles II, 1663–4
Grant to George Kirk of the office of keeping the King's palace called York Place, [Whitehall], with the great garden and orchards, bowling alleys and coney yard near the Cockpit.