Thursday, 1 August 2013

White rabbits

Notes & Queries reports this in 1909, though it must surely date back further than that. I pride myself on (probably) being the first to use it for the first blog of the month. I wonder why white , though Wikipedia reports a colourless alternative: 'rabbits, rabbits, rabbits'.

The word bunny has been with us for some time. Etymonline dates it to the late seventeenth century Scottish dialectal 'bun'. It was suggested to me, by – I think – Joe Cremona (whom I have mentioned  several times before [and that's what meta data is for!]) that prim English nurses and governesses were keen to discourage their charges from using the word descended from the Latin cuniculus – whence come the Spanish conejo, Portuguese coelho, Catalan conill, and various other words including the English 'coney' (rabbit fur).

The word coney was used as a rhyming euphemism for the 'female intercrural foramen', as – like honey and money – it did rhyme with cunny (Latin cunnus in which the double n yields, as often the Spanish ñ  – whence  [] coño). Perhaps the stressed vowel in our 'coney' changed from /ʌ/ to /əʊ/ for  euphemistic reasons similar to those nursemaids'. I have not met the word cunny 'in the wild', but it was used in the script of The Unforgiven in that anatomical sense.

But I must get on. I want to get OA done by the end of the week.

Update 2013.08.01.18:00
Added to last (full) para.
Update 2013.08.02.10:00
PS I assumed that, among those words derived from cuniculus, I might include Italian coniglio. But I wasn't sure at the time. I have looked it up, and it turns out that I should have had the courage of my convictions. But the dictionary yielded two other bits of information:
  • coniglio can also be used in Italian as a taunt to someone who's not brave: 'chicken'
  • 'bunny' is coniglietto
In English, a rabbit isn't notably lacking in courage. The animals themselves are known to be timid, but the only usage that I know of that likens a timid person to a rabbit is this: the 'tail' of a cricket team – not inappropriately, given that Scottish bun, a hare's tail, is cited here as a possible source of the word 'bunny' – are sometimes referred to as 'bunnies'. I wonder if English is alone in not using some sort of rabbit as a term for a timid person. I am reminded of Le bon roi Dagobert:
Le bon Saint Eloi
Lui dit <o mon roi
Votre majesté
Est bien essoufleé. >
<C'est vrai – lui dit le roi – 
Un lapin courait après moi. >
 When I heard this [RIP Cedric Baring-Gould, a brilliant French teacher, ahead of his time, under-estimated by almost everyone], the irony was lost on me.

Coniglietto  is striking for a more formal reason. It has the Italian diminutive suffix -etto/a (as in many borrowed words familar to English speakers: libretto, cornetto, bruschetta...), but coniglio is itself derived from a Latin (-ulus) diminutive.
Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.

Back to the grindstone...

Update 2013.09.27.13:50
Header updated:

 Mammon (When Vowels Get Together V4.0: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs – AA-AU, EA-EU, and  IA-IU, and – new for V4.0 – OA-OU.  If you buy it, contact  @WVGTbook on Twitter and I'll alert you to free downloads of the forthcoming volumes; or click the Following button at the foot of this page.)
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