Re: Rabbits (was: Vocab #4)
|From:||Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>|
|Date:||Sunday, April 21, 2002, 18:24|
At 8:49 pm -0400 20/4/02, John Cowan wrote:
>English only borrowed "rabbit" because "coney" (an earlier borrowing)
>had become homonymous with an obscene word. Note that they are used quite
>synonymously in _The Lord of the Rings_, specifically in the
>chapter "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit": Sam says "raw coney chokes me".
Yes, "con(e)y" [both spellings are found this side of the pond] is still
alive in the English of country folk even now. Quite recently my wife was
surprised to hear one of her 12-year old pupils using the word in his
normal speach. I was certainly familiar with the word as youngster.
Tolkien would have heard human equivalents of the hobbit Samwise use the
the word 'coney' in their ordinary, everyday speech. But AFAIK it's always
used of wild rabbits, or rabbits kept for their meat - never of pet rabbits.
>Is the original native name of the animal (now lost) still known?
>I can think of no other British mammal with a borrowed name.
>Or was it brought in by the Normans along with its name?
There won't be a native Brit word for 'rabbit' since the animal wasn't
known in Briton before the Romans brought them here from the Mediterranean
Welsh: cwningen (plural: cwning)
Breton: konikl (plural: konikled)
These are both from Latin, not Norman French. While we may suspect some
learned influence in the Breton form, the Welsh is derived from a
Romano-British form borrowed from Vulgar Latin. That is the closest we'll
get to a native Brit word.
These early rabbits had become acclimatized to the harsher Brit climate and
I don't think they survived the post-Roman period.
It was indeed the Normans who re-introduced them and gave us the word
'coney' (<-- Old French 'conil') and kept them in warrens, guarded by an
official called a 'warriner', for their meat and their fur. Of course in
time they became fully acclimatized and when some escaped they bred like
rabbits and spread across the island in next to no time!
The Cornish 'konin' looks a borrowing from Middle English. Interestingly,
Breton also has two other words: kounil (from Old French), lapin (from
modern French). I understand the old French word got replaced by 'lapin'
for the same reason we replaced coney with 'rabbit', and IIRC the
etymologies of both 'rabbit' and 'lapin' are not known.